Pulp Fiction · A dozen years ago, our growing family created a problem: Too many books! So after I finished ripping our thousand CDs, we repurposed the CD rack into a bookcase, stuffed it with our genre paperbacks, and put it in the guest room. A few years later, the guest room became our son’s room and the pulp fiction went into boxes. But just now after another bout of domestic reorganization, they’re back out among us. I find their dingy colorful presence cheering. Check out the picture! ... [6 comments]
2021 Series Survey · What with Covid and being semi-retired, I had plenty of reading time in 2021. In particular, I got to the final volumes of multiple long-running literary franchises. (Some of those final volumes had been published years before.) I think that every series listed here is a good investment of your time. Two warnings: It’s mostly pretty mainstream, and kind of sci-fi heavy. Quick table of contents: Broken Earth, The Expanse, Merchant Princes/Empire Games, Neapolitan Novels, The Sandman, Sandman Slim, Trickster Trilogy ... [3 comments]
Murderbot Diaries · I suffered a massive loss of productivity for a few days last week because I started reading the first of this series and found that I had to read them all pretty much without stopping ... [1 comment]
Editing Francesca · This is a story about researching Russian music, about Italian adulterers in Hell, and about pulp sci-fi featuring fairy-cursed princesses. To be honest, it’s also about editing Wikipedia, why that’s fun and rewarding and maybe you should try it ... [2 comments]
Trickster · This is a recommendation for 2½ books and a just-launched TV series, and for the books’ author, Eden Robinson. As a consequence of watching the TV pilot I’m now re-reading the books, which is strong testimony. While this is pretty Canadian stuff, I think the story of a disadvantaged and hard-pressed young aboriginal person, lost in strange spaces, would resonate in plenty of other landscapes. Anyhow, it’s dark and entertaining, with sex and drugs and rock ’n’ roll and supernatural creatures you would not want to meet on a dark night. These are page-turners, keep-you-up-too-late stuff ... [1 comment]
, the fact that... · I’ve been reading Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann since January of this year and finished it earlier this evening. I’ve taken breaks from it to read other books and quit my job and launch a sideline in activism. The book is over a thousand pages long and mostly composed of a single sentence, an endless flow of phrases many introduced by , the fact that… I enjoyed it a whole lot! While most people won’t be eager to wade into something this big and complicated, the fact that it’s OK to take months and months to wander through it may make the idea less intimidating. I hope to tempt you further. Also a few notes about me and books ... [3 comments]
Fun With Semiotics · I just finished reading The Seventh Function of Language by Laurent Binet; it’s impossibly erudite and also hilarious. If you remember the Eighties and if you have some idea why Foucault, Giscard, Nastase, and Eco were interesting, you might really enjoy it, especially if you’re also entertained by sex, violence, and conspiracy theory ... [1 comment]
Murder at Adolf’s Cottage · I recently read Prussian Blue by Philip Kerr. It’s good — a Fifties-Iron-Curtain spy thriller gracefully mashed up with a pre-war murder mystery set in Hitler’s Bavarian country getaway, Berghof. It’s a repeat appearance for Kerr’s Bernie Gunther, an appealingly hard-boiled veteran socialist cop who finds himself working for National Socialist management ...
A Really Bad Year · I just finished reading 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed, and enjoyed it a lot. You might not though, unless you’re interested in the ancient Near East (from Greece to Egypt inclusive), or the practice of archaeology. Well, or the large-scale systemic collapse of great empires ... [2 comments]
Industrial Music · I just finished reading The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory by John Seabrook, which taught me that the big hits being pumped at us via the big divas with the great thighs are mostly the output of a reproducible mechanized process, and the mechanics are Swedes. No, really ... [5 comments]
Good Zombie Fluff · Zombie, as in shambling brain-eating undead. Fluff, as in a book that’s an evening’s worth of page-turning. Good, as in way better than it needs to be and will leave you smiling. I’m talking bout Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion, which I recommend ...
Destroyer of Sleep · I was less than 100% effective at work today, because I foolishly bought Ghost Fleet by P.W. Singer and August Cole, and read till 2:30AM. I just now finished it. Is it a great book? No. But it’s a ripping naval yarn, an old-fashioned war story. Also: Rail gun! ... [1 comment]
Phoenix Is Doomed · I remember my first visit, playing mini-golf in the desert in the Eighties, fountains and waterfalls everywhere, thinking “these people are crazy and this place can’t last.” The next day we had to run like hell for the airport. Oh wait, this is a review of The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi, which is terrific ...
More Expanse! · I just finished reading Nemesis Games, the latest in The Expanse series by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. Predictably, it’s fun, and if you’ve read this far in The Expanse well then of course you’re going to read this one; but it left me a little unsatisfied ... [1 comment]
Children in Combat · There’s strife in every family. The kids’ faction is at a terrible disadvantage in strength and wisdom, so they have to fight sneaky. The analogy with guerrilla war is obvious, which gives me a chance to mix up family life and a book review ... [5 comments]
Mitchell’s Marinus Books · Mitchell as in David Mitchell who wrote Cloud Atlas. Books as in The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and The Bone Clocks, which I’ve spent an unreasonable number of hours reading this last month. Marinus is a character in both. They are huge, beautifully written novels that will take you places you never could imagine and introduce you to people you’ll never forget. They’re also kind of flawed and sloppy; but you’ll have a hard time finding a better read among recent publications ... [3 comments]
Good Books about Bad Places · Christmas was populated as usual with family and food and happiness but this year I was stealing time from them (often sleep time) to read The Orphan Master’s Son. The book’s an explosion of pain and craziness and love and strange, strange flavors, views from angles few could imagine at a place nobody reading it will likely — thank goodness — ever see ... [1 comment]
Space Operas! · Most geeks love ’em; some find the pleasure a little guilty. Gleaming silver ingots of engineering poetry reaching up out of gravity’s mud carrying humanity’s sparks into space’s blackness... and blowing each other up! I’m here to recommend the work of “James S.A. Corey”, but the genre deserves a little survey ... [14 comments]
History Mystery · I just finished After Tamerlane by John Darwin, of whom I know nothing. It’s a 600-dense-page monster and my impulse-bought-but-unread queue bulges behind it. It’s immensely ambitious and I can recommend it for some if not all ... [4 comments]
Tab Sweep · The tabs! They multiply like magnificently miscellaneous maggots! ...
The Tor Danger · If you have a reasonably full life, from time to time you have to look a temptation in the face and say “no”. For example Tor.com ... [5 comments]
Other Elmores · Elmore Leonard died. He was an awfully good writer; I’ve read loads of his books, some more than once or even twice, and regret it not a bit. There have been lots of grateful obits — my favorite is by Joan Acocella in the New Yorker — and they all say you should go read Get Shorty and yeah, it’s good, you should. So here are some more that aren’t usually in lists of his big hits but are really good too ... [2 comments]
Rock and Roll Story · I just finished reading Blues Highway Blues by Eyre Price, which is said to be one of a series called Crossroads Thrillers. If you like either American music or crime fiction, you might like this. If you like both, your chances are pretty high ... [1 comment]
Spies Love Books · Actually I should have commas in the title because Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan is a book initially about spies but more about love and really mostly about books, and writing them. Which some may call incestuous, but people who read books like books so why not? ... [1 comment]
For Everyone · Our family gathering is small this year; only five. Even at that size, when everyone likes the same book, that’s remarkable ... [1 comment]
Four Not For Me · I’ve been reading lots this last year (less music, almost no videogames) writing here about the good ones, and mostly silent about the others. But there’s this category of books I didn’t like but you might, because I think the failing might be in me not the work. As in good, but not for me. Herewith, then, words on Assumption by Percival Everett, Malarky by Anakana Schofield, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan, and The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon ... [3 comments]
Sandman Pricing · Back in September I recommended (albeit in a sort of snotty tone) Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey. Shortly after that, I found out that it’s not just a book, it’s a series. I’ve been reading it but I’ve stopped because I think Amazon’s robbing me ... [37 comments]
Cloud Atlas · This, by David Mitchell, came across my radar because of the news around the forthcoming movie. In book form it’s called Cloud Atlas: A Novel, but that’s a bit misleading because it’s actually six, wrapped up together. I enjoyed it a lot but can’t give an unmixed recommendation ... [5 comments]
Feegles · Lots of people I know, including my wife, keep telling me that I really ought to like Terry Pratchett, and I’ve tried a few times but haven’t. Except for I just finished reading the Tiffany Aching books (“for younger readers”, it says) and loved them ... [8 comments]
Kindle is Weird · The Kindle store is sort of like a quantum vacuum; items flicker into and out of existence, and when they’re there, their measurable attributes don’t stand still ... [7 comments]
Ghost Fluff · Actually, the title is The Ghost Writer; I first noticed it in a movie my neighbor on a plane was watching and thought the visuals were pretty good. Which is relevant because the book turns out to be more or less perfect airline fluff: High velocity, a powerful hook into the real world, and very competent writing ... [4 comments]
Books Both Ancient and Modern · I don’t read lots of books; too busy with work and being a Dad/husband/homeowner/citizen. But there’s always one on the go, and so they add up. Some are airplane-ride fluff, but not all. As a consequence I think about what it means for a novel to be “modern”; in particular because some recent highly-touted works have irritated me on account of their overly-self-conscious modernity. Among other things, it’s obvious that the term “modern” is strongly unrelated to the year of publication ... [3 comments]
Meta Magic · I just finished Among Others by Jo Walton, enjoying it hugely. Not only am I pretty sure that some of you would like it too, I can predict who will and who won’t ... [13 comments]
White Punks on Dope · I’ve been reading immensely more lately, but not reviewing much; not sure why. But A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan demands to be written about. Which lots of people have, it’s been reviewed to death, mostly positively, and won all sorts of prizes. It gave me as intense a book-reading experience as I’ve had in years; I’m still not 100% sure I like it ... [3 comments]
The Second Draft of History · The first, they say, is written by journalists. Then there’s The 9/11 Wars, by Jason Burke, which dives deep on the conflicts launched back on That Day ten years ago and takes the story right up into 2011. I think it’s probably essential reading for anyone fascinated by these sad sequences, especially those who might want to have public opinions ... [2 comments]
Four Scifis · The electric-book-reading setup on the home front is in reasonably good order. The family shares an Amazon account and a Kobo account, and both those vendors are generous in the number of different reading devices you can have authorized at once. Lauren and I both use Android tablets of one size or another to read, and have few complaints. Also, we’re reading lots of books, so I should start reviewing a few. Just because this is a batch review doesn’t mean that I’ll always do that ... [1 comment]
On Books · I hardly ever visit bookstores now. On the other hand, I’ve read more books since last fall than in the previous several years; mostly on my Galaxy Tab. I’m going to miss bookstores, but maybe we’ll save some of the best ones. Just so that this isn’t all tech and biz, I’ve thrown in 21 capsule book reviews ... [16 comments]
Bacchus, Golden · On the last day of 2010 we drove 976km from Calgary to Vancouver. Along the way we stopped in Golden, BC for coffee and muffins at Bacchus Books & Cafe, which I totally recommend if you’re there, and it’s got me thinking about the future (if any) of physical-media retail ... [9 comments]
On Books · Until this month, I’d never even glanced at an e-book. Now I’ve read three and can’t stop thinking about where this is going ... [24 comments]
Late But Essential Review · I read Michael Lewis’ The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine months ago, and have been feeling guilty about not recommending it, because this material is sort of essential for anyone who would like to understand how our economy ended up in the toilet. Read on, not just for a (spoiler: positive) review, but for potentially time- and money-saving advice ... [16 comments]
Summer Reading · I finished David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest yesterday. If I could write like that, I wouldn’t write that. I’m glad I read it. I would never dream of recommending it to anyone ... [8 comments]
Less Like Oration · Nothing is more worth studying than human discourse. We are the language-using species and if we don’t understand how we use it we’ll never understand anything. Recently, courtesy of the Net, we’ve been using it in smaller pieces which require smaller investments of time and attention. These are new things; are they good things? [Warning: long.] ... [15 comments]
Empty Walls · Consider three different rooms you’ve never visited ... [26 comments]
Green Eggs and Toast · “No,” you say, “It’s Green Eggs and Ham!” Well exactly, and right at the moment it’s one of my 2½-year-old daughter’s bedtime favorites. To the extent she’s memorized it; and once a toddler’s memorized a book, you can branch out ... [9 comments]
Author At Work · This seems newsworthy to me but no-one else has pointed so I will. William Gibson, unofficially and without much fuss, is previewing his next novel-in-progress on his blog ... [7 comments]
That Word · Our son, now aged nine, still enjoys a bedtime story, and I enjoy reading them. He’s perfectly literate but his reading-for-pleasure repertoire is along the lines of Harry Potter, Asterix, and Garfield. So I aim higher: Tolkien, Homer, Le Guin. Recently we started on Huckleberry Finn ... [10 comments]
Donkeyists · I have always been sweet on donkeys. I’ve published some fetching donkey photographs in this space, and have visited the Donkey Sanctuary in Devon on three separate occasions. Herewith a donkey-centric book review, travel recommendation, and French word that needs a better English translation ... [11 comments]
Tolkien at Bedtime · Our eight-year-old reads perfectly well; mostly childish trash, of course, which is perfectly appropriate. But he still likes his bedtime story, so we’ve been tackling larger works. We spent the last few months working through The Lord of the Rings, and finished it this evening. I’ve certainly enjoyed it, although sometimes the endless descriptions of pastoral beauty can drag a bit in spoken-word format. Herewith a nifty Middle-Earth resource and a quotation from the book that touched me ... [7 comments]
The Big Switch · Clearly, Nicholas Carr disapproves of much of the culture in which I’ve immersed myself and which I nearly-wholly embrace, to which I would apply labels such as “online” or “Web” or “Internet” or “Twenty-first century”. (Carr and I have written back and forth already on the generalities.) So it would be reasonable to suspect me of bias in writing about his recent The Big Switch—Rewiring the world, from Edison to Google. And indeed, I do think that several of its key arguments are, well, wrong. But it’s a good book anyhow; well written and extremely apposite ... [5 comments]
Censoring Homer · Our son, now eight, can read perfectly well (in three languages) but still requires a bedtime story, which is OK because Lauren and I both enjoy reading them. Given the fact that he can now read all the cheesy pictorials he likes for himself, I’ve been enforcing Big Serious Books. So recently it’s been the Odyssey, which actually hasn’t worked out that well ... [17 comments]
All About Electric Text · This is not exactly a review of Yannis Haralambous’ Fonts & Encodings; that would be the work of years, and I doubt there’s anyone in the world qualified to discuss the whole thing, except its author. This new O’Reilly book is about a thousand pages in length. It’s impossibly ambitious, irritatingly flawed, and probably only comprehensible to a single-digit number of thousands of people world-wide; but for those people it’s an essential book, you just have to have it ... [3 comments]
Spook Country · This is the latest novel by William Gibson. It’s set in early 2006; there is some overlap with the penultimate Pattern Recognition. It doesn’t depart substantially from the Gibson idiom. I liked it a whole lot, but I was cheating ... [7 comments]
The Color · The world outside the restaurant’s windows, beyond words in a red plastic Cantonese neither of them could read, was the color of a silver coin, misplaced for decades in a drawer. One guess whose new book I’m reading ... [21 comments]
Shorter Potter · People who’ve read Harry Potter and the Battle of Hogwarts Deathly Hallows will probably enjoy Potterdammerung. Those who haven’t: stay away, spoilers from end to end. Not to mention coarse language, emo jokes, and a dim view of Harry’s intelligence.
Harry · I don’t know about you, but I think it’s a fine thing that a noticeable proportion of the whole world is going to stop what they’re doing this weekend and read a book instead ... [3 comments]
Two From David · I’d like to encourage you to read two things featuring David Weinberger. I’ve been meaning to post about his new book for some time, but just recently ran across his “Web 2.0” debate with Andrew Keen over at the WSJ Online, and if you care at all about this here Web thang, you really ought to go take it in. Not because it’ll educate and inform you (though it will) but because it’s good fun. I find the Net-centered life sufficiently fulfilling and self-supporting that I wouldn’t take the time to react to a provocateur like Keen, but it’s nice that David does so, while entertaining us ...
Finding Things · That’s the title of my chapter in Beautiful Code, which seems now to be out, not that I’ve actually seen a copy. What’s amusing me today is that Finding Things is the chapter they’ve picked to post as a free PDF download. So, in the event that you’re interested in the subject but don’t care about what Kernihan and Bentley and Petzold and Stein and Dongarra and Cantrill and Matsumoto and all the others have to say, you can avoiding buying the book and doing Amnesty International a favor. I have to say that the Table of Contents looks pretty impressive. [2 comments]
NetNewsWire, Children, and Caesar · The problem is, these days, that my input queues are jammed up. I’m reading Caesar: Life of a Colossus by Adrian Goldsworthy and it’s very good, but it’s awfully big and thick and dense. And my time for reading is tight because, after all, I’m married with two children and also I’m trying to read the Internet, or at least that huge little piece of it where people care about the things I do. And on that subject, once again I just have to plug NetNewsWire. I’ve tried a ton of newsreaders on a ton of platforms. Google’s blog reader is pretty good, and so are a couple of the other clients, but NetNewsWire just shows you more stuff in less time with fewer keystrokes. Years ago I predicted that feed-reading would have been sucked into the browser by now, but I was wrong. So between that and Caesar, and day-to-day job work, and a grungy unexciting complicated fill-a-hole-in-the-ecosystem programming project, well, I have Wikinomics and Everything is Miscellaneous and RESTful Web Services and the Programming Erlang PDF staring accusingly at me from the shadows. Blame Julius Caesar and Brent Simmons. [7 comments]
Hofstadter’s Loop · This is about I Am a Strange Loop by Douglas Hofstadter; my discussion is picky and pedantic and probably far too long for any but his devotees; but then, their number is many ... [9 comments]
Anansi Boys · This is the latest paperback from Neil Gaiman. I read it on the plane back from DC and it’s good enough that I had to sit up late doing some work that I’d planned for the plane. Gaiman’s novels don’t Shift the Mass Understanding Of The Human Condition or Plumb The Depths Of Postmodern Subtextuality, but the people in them are always real interesting and the things that happen to them are entertaining and plausible (well, in the sense that stories which routinely involve gods and alternate universes and the working of magic can be plausible). He’s got a decent blog too. [6 comments]
Grief Lessons · This is a recent book by Anne Carson, a poet and scholar of whom I’d previously never heard. The subtitle is “Four Plays by Euripides” ... [1 comment]
Hot Kid, Tonto Woman · I’d kind of gotten off the book treadmill, what with trying to read the Internet in real time. But for some reason I’ve read a stack of books in recent weeks. One of them was The Hot Kid by Elmore Leonard, who, Wikipedia tells me, has been publishing novels since before I was born. It’s pretty good and, like every book Leonard’s ever written, has flows of dialogue that pull you along and make you smile just at the joy of written spoken English, done well. It’s a pre-Depression gangster novel; the main characters (and they’re all well-done) are synthetic, but Pretty Boy Floyd, John Dillinger, Jay McShann, and other real people of the period hover around the edges. I enjoyed reading it but have a gripe; too much real dumbass gunplay, a big piece of the flying-lead plot is about Our Hero’s ability to draw faster than the bad guys. Therefore, a pointer to another Leonard, 1998’s The Tonto Woman and Other Western Stories, a collection of nineteen short-form Westerns written between the Fifties and Eighties. The violence is implicit, threatened, scary, off-stage, and very real, but it doesn’t happen much in the actual narrative sequence. The prose is amazingly lean; pared down almost to the level of a haiku. If you open this one up leave yourself two or three hours before you go to bed, because you won’t be closing it.
Sebastian and Fred · That would be J. Sebastian Bach and Frederick II Hohenzollern (AKA the Great) of Prussia, who famously met in 1747. The King proposed a Royal Theme and asked Bach to extemporize fugally; Bach did so on the spot, somewhat, and a few weeks later sent Frederick The Musical Offering. This episode appeared at the beginning of Gödel, Escher, Bach, and now finds itself at the center of another book: Evening in the Palace of Reason by James R. Gaines, of whom I’d never previously heard. It’s pretty good; read on for some remarks on the book, Frederick, Sebastian, and the Offering ...
Next Gibson · Over on his very-intermittent blog, William Gibson is apparently floating fragments of whatever it is that he’s currently writing. Atmospheric, as always.
Two Lives · This is the latest by Vikram Seth, best known for A Suitable Boy. Seth is one of only two or three authors whose new works I buy on sight, without waiting to read reviews (mind you, since he only publishes every decade or so, this is not an expensive habit). I have on several occasions said that I think that Seth the greatest living writer of English, and may say so again. This book, a double biography of his Indian-born dentist uncle and Berlin-born Jewish aunt and the middle-class English life they built on the wreckage of terrible war wounds, physical and spiritual, is not perfect, but it’s very good and you probably won’t regret reading it. Herewith some remarks on the book and a funny story about the time I met the author ...
Feeling Sad? · Or, if you’re not, have you noticed people around you acting kind of gloomy? Particularly young people? Have you recently found a picture of an attractive Englishwoman in your bookish child’s room, with “Murdering bitch!” or “Avada Kedavra to you too!” scrawled on it? Which is to say, the latest Harry Potter, well, it’s not cheerful at all. That awful Englishwoman remarked insouciantly that she was thinking of starting on the sequel next year... in the interim, she is a major Bringer of Unhappiness to Children of all ages, and I think she should get a move on. And if she can’t engineer a happy ending I urge the House of Commons to impose a really frightful punishment. Something medieval, involving dank mossy dungeons and rusty iron implements.
Iron Sunrise · This is the latest from Charlie Stross, and it’s what space opera ought to be. It’s got interstellar Nazis, a star maliciously blown up starting on Page One, detailed descriptions of how you go about dying when your star blows up, killer robot dogs, a whiny but appealing teenage Gothick chick named Wednesday, a first-rate deus ex machina, a hard-drinking intergalactic warblogger (no, really, he gets the girl even), uh did I mention the really really evil Space Nazis? And you know what? The suspension of disbelief holds. Plus, the characters are appealing and the story moves right along. OK, well maybe the denouement is a little forced and overextended, with U. Portia Hoescht out of character. Compared to the previous Singularity Sky, the atmospherics are maybe a little weaker, but the storytelling is a lot stronger. Plus our friends Rachel and Martin from that book are back; plus there are obviously lots of sequels in the pipeline. I sure enjoyed reading it.
FSS: Aberystwyth At Dusk · Friday Slide Scan #3 is from 1988: a dark waterfront in Wales, and a side-trip into the Black Book of Carmarthen ...
Strange & Norrell · That would be Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, an immensely large novel whose stylish white-on-black and black-on-white covers are occupying miles of shelf-space everywhere. Summary: it’s a good book. Herewith notes plus ramblings on travel and reading ...
Lustre-Lustrous · I am the lucky owner of one of the plates used to print the original 1928 version of the Oxford English Dictionary, a trophy of the years 1987-89 when I worked full-time on a sideshow of a sideshow of the production of the OED Second Edition; this fragment’s title is the range of words that were on that page. Herewith a brief visual essay on the plate, which surprisingly includes a curvy fashion shoot ...
Wolfe’s Latest · I just finished reading The Knight, by Gene Wolfe, one of only two or three living authors whose works I’ll pick up without regard to reviews or word-of-mouth ...
Moneyball · I suspect I’m one of only 100 literate baseball fans in the world who hadn’t already read Michael Lewis’ Moneyball, but now I have, and if you’re one of the other 99, you should too. A few words on the book and on books and Lewis and the A’s and orthography and all that ...
3 Views of Mount Fuji · What happened was, tired in an airport looking for lightweight reading, I grabbed The Last Defender of Camelot, collected late works of Roger Zelazny, who was at the centre of the SciFi universe a few decades back. It has a piece called 24 Views of Mount Fuji, by Hokusai which won a Hugo in 1986 and as a story is only OK but as a narrative wrapped around a famous set of pictures it’s awfully good. On impulse, I typed “hokusai 24” into Google, to discover that there are 36 pictures in the original series, but that Tim Eagen, back in ’98, poked around the Web and assembled the 24 images from the Zelazny story; a fine piece of curatorship and really an essential companion to reading the story. Looking at one of them, I thought: I’ve been there. There’s an amusing narrative to accompany the views ...
History of the Present · That’s the title of an excellent 1999 book I’m now reading, by Timothy Garton Ash. It is real-time reportage focusing around the great transition from pre- to post-Cold War that happened so unimaginably fast, starting in 1989, before our watching eyes. But the History of the Present is what bloggers are writing, too; and Ash says some things that anyone who’s doing it should consider very carefully ...
Surprise! · Just got back from seeing Master and Commander. The theatre was jam-packed; mind you it was Saturday night, but still, the movie’s been out for ages. I’m pleased it’s doing well because it’s very good indeed. Herewith a few notes on the movie, and more on the books behind it; if there are any book-lovers reading this who haven’t yet discovered Patrick O’Brian, do yourself a big favor and read on. Plus I close with the obligatory geek-interest side-notes. [Update: The Gunroom lives!] ...
Slowsilver · My personal reading metabolism has been suffering for quite some time from severe constipation induced by Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver. This book is very large and not a snappy read and I felt guilty about starting other things until I’d finished it. Now I have ...
Entropy · In this universe, life in general constitutes a losing battle against entropy, with intelligence perhaps our best tactical asset in that struggle. Recently we launched a domestic counter-offensive; herewith some battlefield reportage ...
Xenophon · A few months back I talked up Herodotus; on today’s Classic Authors Hit Parade is Xenophon, whose Conversations of Socrates carried me most of the long way from Vancouver to Heathrow today (these new Powerbooks get two hours max, four if you turn the screen off and use it as a music box). The Socrates is a bit of a plodder, but herewith an unabashed rave over his Anabasis, a totally unbelievable true story well-told, and some general remarks as to why you might want to read these long-dead writers ...
The 1975 Idea-Futures Market · There’s been much ado in recent days over DARPA’s notion of setting up a futures market where people could speculate on the likelihood of geopolitical events: terrorism, rebellion, death, and so on. The oscillating waves of opinion were kind of amusing: initial puzzlement, followed by reflexive horror and denunciation, with recently a few quiet voices saying “Maybe this wasn’t such a bad idea.” This note is to point out that the idea goes back at least as far as John Brunner’s 1975 scifi novel Shockwave Rider, which some of you might enjoy reading for its own sake ...
Jesus’ Son · By Denis Johnson, published 1992. Stories lavishly praised by everyone including John Updike, some published in the New Yorker no less, deranged narratives out of alcoholism and drug psychosis shot through with veins of the purest gold, golden language I mean. William Burroughs territory here, only West Coast rural not Manhattan, and kind of linear. But once is enough ...
Archie and Nero, et al · I whiled away several quiet hours this holiday (in Canada) weekend reading three of Rex Stout's “Nero Wolfe” novels that I ran across in a used bookstore that leapt in front of me during a routine shopping trip. For the huge number of people too young to know about Archie and Nero, an introduction. For the aficionados, if any, a scholarly investigation of The Office Layout Issue, and a pointer to a real DVD bargain ...
Sahara Unveiled · Sahara Unveiled, by William Langewiesche, is a fine book. He traveled around and across the Sahara by local transit and writes about it beautifully. He likes the people and respects but does not romanticize them. This is a harsh unbeautiful landscape and the writing is often that way. There are surprising illustrations of petroglyphs ...
Herodotus · For some time now, Herodotus' Histories, in the Aubrey de Sélincourt translation, has been my bedside book, and I just got to the end; this is my second time through the Histories, and I wouldn't be surprised if I visit it again. I think there's lots in here for just about everybody, but anyone who cares about history in the large would I think be mesmerised. I'll describe the book briefly and outline some of the reasons I like it so much. Also I'll trace a line of descent into some excellent contemporary fantasy writing, and wonder about parallels with the current Middle East imbroglio ...
Iraq: Blame it on Lawrence's Bosses · I saw the picture below in some online publication, and it struck me that quite likely, very few people know where Iraq came from. The picture shows the delegation of Emir Feisal at the Versailles conference post-Great-War; the fellow just over Feisal's left shoulder, with two bands around his kaffiyeh, is T.E. Lawrence, a.k.a. Lawrence of Arabia. And therein hangs a hell of a tale ...
"Pattern Recognition" by William Gibson · You have to credit Gibson with, if nothing else, extreme courage. He has a proven gift for inventing alternate realities that huge numbers of people are willing to buy his books about, and after a couple of decades of that, here he is with a linear-narrative type thriller set firmly in 2002 ...