Monday, January 29, 2007


By Neil Gaiman.

A young man working in the securities industry in London trips over a bleeding woman while on his way to a restaurant with his fiancée and stops to help her, just like anyone would do. Right? Actually, his girlfriend Jessica stepped right over here and ended up dumping him over the incident, although that quickly became the least of his worries. (The young man actually does have a name, but it doesn't seem to be very memorable.) The next morning, the girl, named Door, sends him out to find someone she knows and soon afterward vanishes out of his life. A few hours later he vanishes, too: he finds his desk being taken away at work, no one seems to know him and most don't even see him, his ATM card stops working, and so on...

The above paragraph is pretty close to the teaser on the book jacket. Why? Because it's what hooked me on the book. Such an interesting beginning couldn't possibly end up all bad, right?

This book is pretty good. There is some kind of first-novel quality about it that reminds me, maybe, of War for the Oaks and other similar books (not to mention the actual subject matter of the book), but I enjoyed it for the most part. Objections? Well, I didn't really like how one issue was left somewhat unresolved: someone vanishes early on, but it isn't ever made clear whether she's actually dead or what happened to her. It seemed, possibly, like a cheap plot device to ditch the character like Mercutio before she ended up taking over the story. Also, the young man mentioned above must be uneducated, to say the least, to hire a tour guide named Lamia and not have the least idea what she might expect in payment.

Pretty good, although, since I've already brought it up, maybe not as polished as War for the Oaks. Maybe, though, I've just gotten more critical.


An anthology edited by Patrick Nielsen Hayden.

The stories in this don't really fit into any category more narrow than speculative fiction—they're all over the place. Some I thought were good, others I didn't, two I skipped. ("GI Jesus" and Michael Swanwick's story) The ones I think worth mentioning are:

Liza and the Crazy Water Man. Maybe I'm only mentioning this because it was the first one I read in the book, because I'm not sure what I liked about it. I think it was well written, though.

Sister Emily's Lightship. You're obviously supposed to assume (well, I did) that Emily is Emily Dickinson. Kind of a weird story, though.

Killing the Morrow. This could definitely be classified as horror. And adult. A homeless man hears a "Voice" one day and is told exactly where to go live. Apparently, so is everyone else in the world. Axe murder follows the completion of the Voice's project, hence the horror classification.

Erase/Record/Play: A Drama for Print. John M. Ford's story reminded me of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead; funny, clever, and beyond my understanding. Also alludes heavily to Shakespeare with a performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream (I think). Since I've never read the original play, I don't know how much he changed (the hypodermics, for example, are obviously modern). This one might even be worth rereading to try and figure out, but I wasn't motivated enough.

The Cost to Be Wise. By Maureen F. McHugh, this is one of the more sci-fi slanted stories in the collection. Unfortunately, it isn't really clear what to make from the story itself, while the author's bio (collected with the others at the very end of the book) indicates a book set in this world was forthcoming at the time. As it has since forthcome, I may check it out.

In summary: One or two really good stories (Erase/Record/Play definitely tops my list), but the rest were either mediocre or I chose not to read them for other reasons.

Monday, January 01, 2007

2006 in review

I want to mention some of the books that I especially enjoyed or found memorable this year. I intended to do something like this, but Elliot's similar post really spurred me along. (The only reason we're on a first-name basis is because he provides no last name on his site.)

Mine, I'm afraid, will not be so well organized.

This was the year I started this blog, a place to post only about books (I have another blog where I barely post at all). I meant to post about all the books I read so that I'd be able to look back and say "What a waste!" and cut down a bit, but that didn't really happen. A couple comments made me consider making it more useful by only posting books I recommended instead, and someone said my concise (ha) reviews were just what he was looking for.

Personally speaking, I don't think my reviews are very good. I'm not disciplined enough to write all of them ahead of time and then think about them, and I usually think of many more things I'd like to say after writing posts. A weakness in my writing is that I can hardly bear to read it later. Comments asking for clarification, or comments in general, will probably be appreciated.

So... the books.

Note: The linked book titles probably go to my original posts about those books.


I started trying to read some non-fiction due to a comment by ladybug. Most of it was memorable, if not necessarily recommended, maybe because I was so intentional in reading it.
  • Hunger: An Unnatural History. Exceptionally interesting book about the biology and culture of hunger. I found it from the Fanatic Cook.

  • American Caesar. Biography of Douglas MacArthur. Interesting at parts, but too verbose and has dubious accuracy.

  • Hiroshima. Really a long essay or newspaper article about the experiences of several survivors in Hiroshima after the bomb was dropped. Should be required reading for American history classes.

  • The Heavenly Man. Remarkable story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun. It affected me emotionally when I read it but hasn't inspired quite so drastic a change in my life, if any at all. Still, well worth reading.


I started browsing the young adult shelves again this year. (For a while I had the attitude that "Young adult is for teens", but somehow I got cured of that. Young adult is a dubious label anyway.) I also discovered author blogs after reading John C. Wright's Orphans of Chaos, and found many more books by following links from there.

Most consistently interesting blog: The Superversive. This guy writes essay after essay lucidly and his unpublished magnum opus (tentatively titled "The Magnificent Octopus") also sounds quite interesting.

Note: Some of these I might have read late 2005 instead of 2006, since I don't have posts that far back to refer to. These are in no particular order.
  • The Goose Girl. Great fairy tale spin-off; also check out the "companion novels" (sequels about the non-POV characters) Enna Burning and River Secrets if you like the first one.

  • The Orphans of Chaos, and sequel Fugitives of Chaos. This was the book this blog started on. Fun story about 5 children held in a boarding school run by Greek myths. (How d'ya like that euphemism?)

  • The Golden Age trilogy, also by Wright. Fun, clever far future sci-fi with lots of references to mythology. (Seeing a pattern?) Having read Poul Anderson's Harvest of Stars in the last few days, I can see where a lot of Wright's inspiration came from, but I think Wright's execution in handling the characters and story was a bit better than Anderson. However, it was nice that Anderson's book was only one volume, instead of three.

  • Spindle's End, Beauty, and Rose Daughter. Not connected narratives in the usual sense of "series", they are a set of good fairy tale retellings by Robin McKinley.

  • Sunshine. Some very "adult" scenes could be excised from this without making it any less good.

  • Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls. I discovered Jane Lindskold's Firekeeper series some time ago (see Wolf Hunting), and really enjoyed it. This book was her first published (not about Firekeeper) and for some reason has stuck in my memory.

  • Cobwebs. Girl growing up in New York City explores her heritage... which seems to include climbing walls and spinning silk.

  • The Dubious Hills. Great fantasy set in the same world as the Secret Country trilogy.

  • The Prize in the Game. Reading this made me want to Jo Walton's The King's Peace and The King's Name. All three do a remarkable job of making a fantasy world that feels incredibly solid.

  • Joan Slonczewski's A Door Into Ocean, The Children Star, and Brain Plague. Kind of hard sci-fi oriented around a single planet with a focus on biology in the science aspect. I especially liked 'jum (in The Children Star).

  • War for the Oaks. I wasn't sure whether to mention this or not. It is worth reading at least once if you like fantasy.

  • The Blue Girl. I had avoided this book because it was in the YA section, but it's quite good if you like Charles de Lint. Fantasy. Also, href="">Widdershins is the sequel to The Onion Girl.

  • Inkheart and Inkspell (two separate books). Somehow I had never heard of
    these before this year.

  • The Sevenwaters Trilogy, Wolfskin, and Foxmask. Fantasies based on Celtic(?) and Norse mythology. Martin LaBar has done a series of posts on them over on his blog.

  • The Swans' War. A different take on epic fantasy, by Sean Russell. The statement on his website that he was trying to avoid Tolkenian clichés adds some insight to these. They may start a bit slow but they're quite good.

  • The Secrets of Jin Shei. A less overt fantasy set in a country similar to historical China. The story is much more about relationships than about the fantasy elements.

  • A Fire Upon the Deep. Classic sci-fi must-read. This was a reread and I was reluctant to pick it up because of that, but pretty much as soon as I started it I could hardly stop. Vernor Vinge wrote another book about Phon's previous life, and rumor says there is a sequel to this one coming soon.

  • Many of Patricia McKillip's books (some were rereads): Alphabet of Thorn, Od Magic, Ombria in Shadow, The Riddle-Master of Hed (note: part of a trilogy), The Book of Atrix Wolfe. Most are relatively short (300 pages) self-contained fantasies. Her imagery is dream-like.

  • Bear Daughter. Based on Indian (sorry for the generality) folklore, this book is very readable. Some details seemed a bit simplistic to me; it might be on a level similar to Cobwebs.

  • The Book of the New Sun. For people with access to Google only. I found it quite readable (especially remarkable considering how long it is) but would have missed a lot if I hadn't read what other people said about it.

Wow, long post, huh?