April 29, 2004
13. The Sound and The Fury, William Faulkner
I almost decided not to list this one, just because while yes, I read it, I'm not entirely sure I got it. The thing that I both love and hate about Faulkner is that he never tells you anything directly. Well, almost never. And when he does tell you something, it's rarely anything that seems to make sense at the time. Reading Faulkner for me is always like trying to solve a mystery--the mystery being "what the hell is going on in this book/story?" It's compelling, but frustrating as hell.
After I finished reading this book this afternoon, I was finally forced to go online looking for some interpretations and summaries, just so I could figure out what I'd missed. I'd missed quite a bit, but not as much as I'd feared. I did, sort of, get the main points right.
As a writer, several things confound me. How does one manage to write "around" an entire book without ever deliberately being clear or straightforward? And how does one manage to not only make that obscurity work, but produce what's generally regarded as a masterpiece? How can you tell the difference between marvelously written stream-of-consciousness and s-o-c that's just crap? I'm baffled by it, because I spend so much time trying to be as clear as possible--so much that I overexplain. No one will ever accuse Faulkner of overexplaining anything.
I have a feeling I'll be reading some more criticism on this book, mostly because I feel like I have it right at the tip of my tongue. I can see it, and I can see why folks consider it a master work, but I'm not quite there yet.
April 24, 2004
12. Contact, Carl Sagan
This may truly be the first time that I've enjoyed a movie more than the book it came from. That isn't to say the book is bad. It's definitely not. It's the hardest sci-fi I've read in a long time--you can tell that for Sagan, the point of the book was the science. That makes sense, of course, he was a brilliant scientist. He also gets more than a few digs in at the expense of various world governments.
The biggest problem for me personally (and this is why I rarely read hard sci-fi) was that due to the focus on the science, the characters just weren't as warm and believable as they were in the movie. I get why changes were made. The moviemakers shifted the focus from the science to the characters, and made a few plot changes (not all of which I'm sure I agree with) to smooth things out.
All in all, I'm glad I read this, because if nothing else, it made me think. Frighteningly enough, between this book and Jeanette Winterson's Gut Symmetries, I'm growing increasingly intrigued by theoretical physics, and that's just scary and wrong.
April 22, 2004
11. Mistress of the Empire, Raymond E. Feist & Janny Wurts
While the first book of the series is probably my favorite of the three, I think this, the last book, is probably the most well-written. Feist & Wurts don't shy away from having horrible things happen to their characters--major characters die throughout the series, and things twist in ways I hadn't expected--but the stakes get about as high as possible in the third. I spent more time being terrified for my favorite characters in this book than in either of the first two.
The conclusion is satisfying. I'm still undecided on how I feel about the big "secret" Mara uncovers in this book (the hidden truth about the Empire!), but I enjoyed it while I was reading it--in fact, that pretty much sums up how I felt about the whole series. I enjoyed it while I was reading it, but I doubt it made a huge lasting impact on me.
10. Servant of the Empire, Raymond E. Feist & Janny Wurts
I was very much of two minds about the second book of this series. While it was enjoyable, there was also a sense of frustration with the book whenever Feist tried to pull in his Riftworld setting and make it clash and mesh with the Empire setting.
While I get the point they were trying to make plotwise, it very much smacked of cultural superiority--the "Western" characters coming in and pointing out to the Eastern characters exactly how their culture was wrong and bad. Add the fact that the Western character is male and the Eastern female, and the it's even more irritating.
And while I'm on the subtext soapbox, in this book in particular, there is a very clear sense of "good=slender/muscular/slim" and "evil=fat/stout/lazy". It's a trap that spec fic falls into often (Frank Herbert, I'm looking in your direction, hello House Harkonnen), and it's so overdone here that it's almost comical. When I got bored I started counting up references to Mara as "slender" and her antagonists as fat.
But again, overall, I enjoyed the story in spite of all of the above. It's refreshing that Mara is a female ruler who rules with absolutely no sense of her feminine wiles until late in the game, relying solely on her wits. The love story is sweet and entertaining, and the politics are well done.
Still... I'm starting to wonder what sort of paper could be done on way spec fic equates fat with evil and sexual perversity. Hm.
9. Daughter of the Empire, Raymond E. Feist & Janny Wurts
This series came highly recommended by Dawn and Jason. While I enjoyed Feist's Faerie Tale, I managed to read only a little bit of the first Riftwar book before giving it up as derivative and dull. (The story seemed familiar: outcast boy in a medieval setting discovers he gets to learn to magic and eventually becomes all-powerful.) So, on hearing that the Empire books were connected to the Riftwar books, I was skeptical.
After a bit of a slow start, I enjoyed the first book of the series. The writing isn't spectacular (the POV shifts started to make me crazy), but the storytelling is solid--solid enough that I read all three books within about a week's time. As opposed to Feist's medieval setting, the setting of the Empire books is more clearly Eastern, something unique enough to me that I haven't gotten tired of it yet.
Overall, Feist and Wurts do a decent job of getting us inside the characters' heads, and of showing us why they feel what they do. I resisted the urge to mark up Dawn's copy with a red pen on occasion, but that urge got rarer as I went further into the story (not, I'm guessing, because the writing got better, but because the story got more compelling).
April 11, 2004
8. Bluegrass: A History, Neal V. Stephenson
Very dry, but informative, book on the beginnings of bluegrass as a musical genre. There really isn't much more to say about it, as I'm sure most of the things I learned are of interest only to me. However, it definitely gave me a feel for how I want to approach some of the historical bits in some of the stories I'm working on.
April 05, 2004
7. American Gods, Neil Gaiman*
Sometimes, it's just time to reread some Gaiman. I enjoyed this book much more this time around. The first time I had a real issue with the last quarter or so--it just didn't seem the fit with the rest of the book. On a second reading though, I retract that. It works. I so love Gaiman's style and his ideas. Overall, this is one of the books that satisfies something in me, that makes my brain smile.