February 5th, 2011


Books that I read in January (Delayed-by-blizzard edition)

Books that I read in January:

1. Kipling, Rudyard. Kipling's Science Fiction (178 p.)
(Contents: A Matter of Fact, The Ship that Found Herself, ·007, "Wireless", With the Night Mail, As Easy as A.B.C., In the Same Boat, The Eye of Allah, Unprofessional, The Fairies' Siege)

2. Silverberg, Robert, ed. Legends II: New Short Novels by the Masters of Modern Fantasy (642 p.)
(Contents: Realm of the Elderlings: Homecoming, by Robin Hobb; A Song of Ice and Fire: The Sworn Sword, by George R.R. Martin; The Tales of Alvin Maker: The Yazoo Queen, by Orcon Scott Card; Outlander: Lord John and the Succubus, by Diana Gabaldon; Majipoor: The Book of Changes, by Robert Silverberg; Otherland: The Happiest Dead Boy in the World, by Tad Williams; Pern: Beyond Between, by Anne McCaffrey; The Riftwar: The Messenger; by Raymond E. Feist; The Symphony of Ages: Threshold, by Elizabeth Haydon; American Gods: The Monarch of the Glen, by Neil Gaiman; Shannara: Indomitable, by Terry Brooks)

3. Fforde, Jasper. Lost in a Good Book (Thursday Next, v. 2) (399 p.)

4. Dickson, Gordon R. Necromancer (141 p.)

5. Dickson, Gordon R. Tactics of Mistake (211 p.)

6. Dickson, Gordon R. Dorsai! (165 p.)

7. Watt-Evans, Lawrence. The Spell of the Black Dagger: an Ethshar novel (312 p.)

8. Heinlein, Robert A. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (382 p.)

January total: 2,430 pages
2011 total: 2,430 pages

Yes, Rudyard Kipling wrote science fiction. A lot of it falls either in the category of analysis of then-current cutting-edge technology that is badly dated as soon as that technology is commonplace and/or superceded, or the category predictions of future technology that are badly dated as soon as that technology is invented for real. A couple of the stories need the spin put on them by the editor's introductions to be classified as "science fiction" rather than the more general "speculative fiction". Either way, 75-100 years afterwards, the "fiction" is still excellent, but the "science" often feels more like history lessons than sci-fi. That said, the two stories set in a future where the airplane is considered to be obsolete and all air travel is done by zeppelin are the most "science fiction-y", I think, though these days read more like near-steampunk alternative history than the speculative science fiction they were when they were written. But they're all good, and if you manage to find a copy of this collection, I do recommend giving it a try--Kipling writes good stuff, no matter the genre.

I'd read the first Legends collection shortly after it came out, but only just now got around to the second. Most of the stories are good, but are part of series that I haven't read--and only some of those stories made me want to rectify that. I know that crafting a story that stands well on its own is a mark of success for something in a collection like this, but I'd like to think that a truly good story would also interest one in reading more about those characters & that milieu. (Martin's story is a sequel to The Hedge Knight, which is one of the bits of Song of Ice and Fire that I like a lot; Card's story made me want to know more about the alternate history of Alvin Maker's world, but I'm not sure how much I'd enjoy an entire novel with those characters; and I very much enjoyed Feist's story, enough to make me want to read more like that--but the setting is so secondary in this story I suspect this isn't very representative. Of the others, I thought Silverberg's was a quality use of epic poetry in a fantasy story (though cried foul just a little at the editor slipping in one of his own stories), found a lot of grist for RPG adventures in Hobb's story, and usually enjoy Gaiman's writing (and this was no exception), and overall enjoyed the other stories, but none of those hooked me into wanting more--even though I've read and enjoyed American Gods, one or more likely two of the Majipoor books, one of the Symphony of Ages books, and many of the Pern & Shannara books.)

Jasper Fforde is a master of literary allusion and of using time travel paradoxes without letting them bog down the story. I think his Nursery Crime books are more readable/approachable than the Thursday Next books, but they're all good so far.

I picked up the three Dickson books (all part of his "Childe Cycle") when I saw them in my library's used book sale, because I remember reading a Robert Asprin tale or two of the "Dorsai Irregulars" at WorldCons and wanted to read some of the stories that were the inspiration. After reading these three (and summaries of the others), I get the feeling the parts I enjoyed the most weren't the parts that made up the story Dickson really wanted to tell. Of the three, I enjoyed Tactics of Mistake the most, followed by Dorsai! (at least, large portions of it), but I did not like Necromancer and only finished it because of my general compulsion to finish books I start.

Every once in a while I come across a copy of another Ethshar novel, and always find them well-written and enjoyable. Overall, I found this one very interesting in that it had both a female protagonist and a female antagonist (and which is which depends partially on one's interpretation) without ever once dwelling on stereotypical "female" topics or conversation/argument cliches, but I was annoyed that some of the absolutely key discoveries by the "good guys" towards solving the central conflict (particularly the one that identifies the origin of the titular Black Dagger) took place completely off-panel and are revealed to a point-of-view character in a completely off-hand and down-played manner. Finally, as is usual for Ethshar novels, there are also a lot of good ideas to snag for RPG adventures in this story.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress comes off as a bit of an odd duck for me. Overall, I enjoyed it--perhaps because it seems to lack the typical Heinleinian whiplash-inducing plot shift 3/4 of the way through that usually makes me wish Heinlein would have written 3/4 of each of his stories and then handed them off to someone else to finish. The book seems to be an attempt to argue that near-perfect libertarianism built on the concept of "There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch" is only sensible way to run a civilization, but if so, I think the story completely undercuts it's core concept by the protagonists only succeeding in their "libertarian revolution" because they've been given a free lunch by the author--in the form of a artificially intelligent co-conspirator who for the first third of the book provides them with perfectly secure communications while handing them a silver platter with all of their oppressors' communications and also provides them with a perfectly untraceable and uncensorable spokesman, and who for the entire book just about always knows exactly what to say, when to say it, and whom to say it to in order to achieve the optimal end result to the primary plot--and occasionally even steps in to take the place of the main character and do what he should have done when the main character is indisposed. With that ace in their possession, the protagonists can't *help* but win, no matter what their political leanings happen to be.

Feudalism: Serf & Turf
(P.S.: While some people might have found being home from work due to blizzard for two and a half days to provide the sort of extra time one needs to write up a post like this, being the cruise director for a home-and-bored three-year-old means life doesn't always work that way.)