Ahem. I am mildly furious at my WordPress install right now. I had written about a thousand words on this post two nights ago, and noticed that the autosave feature was chugging along nicely. However, a bit past midnight, while still writing, we lost power in my house.
Now, I write these posts on my 7-year-old laptop because it has a nice big screen. What it doesn’t have is a battery that works for more than 1 or 2 minutes. So, trusting that autosave had been doing its thing, I quickly shut down everything and powered off the computer. I knew I might lose a little bit, but not a huge amount.
Sadly, that whole thousand words is gone. There is no evidence of any autosave revisions anywhere that I can find. So I’ll have to recreate it, but I don’t have the will to re-blather that much again, so—perhaps luckily for you—you are in for a much more succinct version of this post than I had originally intended.
As a quick aside on the title, I had actually started this one right after my last post, and had intended to publish it in short order. In that context, “a few straggler books” makes sense, since this post finishes off my discussion of books I’ve finished reading recently (for values of “recently” that encompass the last 8–12 months).
It is just as well that I didn’t post it right away, since I haven’t done much in the past month. (I did get out to see one movie, 50/50, which was very well done. Both touching and funny, and a lot less vulgar than I’m used to for a movie with Seth Rogen in it.) So now I have something meaningful to post, more or less on my usual (i.e. monthly) schedule.
(One of these days—when my PhD is done—I will cultivate a more regular blogging habit. I know you all shall be waiting with bated breath.)
Anyway, my thoughts on some more comparatively recently-finished books are blow.
The Sorcerer’s House, by Gene Wolfe
I won this from the Ranting Dragon giveaway as part of their Locus Reading Challenge. I am somewhat ashamed to admit that, despite owning a number of Wolfe’s most famous works and hearing nothing about praise for him, The Sorcerer’s House is the first book of his I’ve actually read.
Thankfully, his reputation does not seem to be overstated. The book is an epistolary novel, mostly letters from ex-con Bax to his twin brother, his brother’s wife, or his old friend from jail. The letters relate the strange goings-on as, recently released from prison, he finds himself the heir of a large house in a town he was just passing through. Things get stranger from there.
While the plot is compelling enough, Wolfe is most lauded for the quality of his prose, and such praise is well deserved. His writing is rich and nuanced and complex, and he expertly gives each character a unique voice that comes across on the page. He seems to hit on all cylinders: complex, interesting characters doing interesting things via beautifully-written prose. Just what I look for in a novel.
Though I did read it in a couple of days, I will say The Sorcerer’s House was not a quick or easy read. The epistolary structure and potentially-unreliable narrator meant that you definitely had to pay attention to what you were reading. So Wolfe is perhaps not what you are looking for when you want some brain-dead entertainment that is a fun way to kill some time. He offers a richer reading experience, one that I look forward to partaking in again as I read some of his classics.
You know, when I get around to them.
The Floating Islands, by Rachel Neumeier
I picked up The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier because it had a pretty cover. I bought it because I like floating islands. Well, that, and I had a discount, and one of the staff at Bakka had posted a complimentary blurb about it on the shelf. This is a YA novel, and so a bit out of my usual purchasing pattern, but it turned out to be an enjoyable read.
The story opens with recently-orphaned Trei arriving at the aforementioned Floating Islands where he is coming to live with his mother’s relatives. On the way, he sees their winged warriors flitting about and vows to become one of them. His relatives are nice, and after a rough start, he and his cousin Araene become close. Araene chafes at the restrictions put on women in her society, but has found a number of clever workarounds. Together, they face new tragedies, danger in the form of an invading army, and adventures neither of them could have imagined.
This was a quick and enjoyable read. It was reasonably inventive throughout, and had some incredibly cool bits. There were a few stylistic quirks that bothered me a bit, but I think that is mostly attributable to the, well, YAishness of the book. I don’t read a lot of YA, but what little I have read has some… quality… that I can’t quite identify but that stands out for me just enough to make me notice it. Anyway, quite a fun book overall.
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente
Of course, I was just saying I don’t read much YA, and yet here I am, talking about another YA novel. I picked this one up mostly due to the overwhelmingly-positive buzz, and I had seen the author on panels at Worldcon in 2009 where she impressed me. Most of her work that I’ve looked into doesn’t quite strike me as being the kind of stuff I generally like to read, but when this one—a children’s fantasy that was the favourite book of a character in one of her other novels—came along, I figured it was time to take the plunge.
The story concerns a girl, September, who jumps at the chance to visit Fairyland when the Green Wind shows up and makes the offer. (That was something of a refreshing change. She didn’t go there by accident, or while trying to get away from something else—it just sounded like fun!) She makes new friends, sees wondrous things, and general wackiness ensues.
Valente’s Fairyland come across as a bizarre mashup of classic fairy tale tropes, Disney films, and clever original ideas. It feels both familiar and new at the same time, and makes quite an interesting backdrop for September’s adventures. Along the way September meets an entertaining cast of companions and enemies, and tries her very best to accomplish her quest.
The book, like Fairyland itself, walks the line between familiar and comfortable and wholly original. I really enjoyed it, and bought a second copy to give to my niece. As I had suspected after her panels at Worldcon and after reading her blog, Catherynne M. Valente is a clever and talented writer, one who is well worth checking out.
The Lifecycle of Software Objects, by Ted Chiang
This book is really only a novella, published in a fine edition by Subterranean Press. Oddly, this was perhaps the most disappointing of the four books I talk about here. That is not to say that it was bad, by any stretch—it was interesting, thoughtful, well-written, and eminently readable. It was disappointing because the last thing I read by the author (the legendary Ted Chiang) was the short story “Exhalation“, which BLEW MY FREAKING MIND!
So it’s a case of my expectations being set too high. I had been hoping this novella would be as awesome as “Exhalation”, and perhaps for some readers it is, but not quite for me. So The Lifecycle of Software Objects was a letdown compared to “Exhalation”, but still very good overall. Such is the life of a writer so lauded as Ted Chiang—even he can’t always live up to his own hype, I guess.
Anyway, this novella is an exploration of the issues surrounding artificial intelligence, and the implications of having to “raise” them from infancy in order for them to be useful in any way. As I said, it is well done, thoughtful, and easy to read, though—uncharacteristically for stuff I read—nothing blows up. (That I was still compelled to keep reading is perhaps a strong sign of Chiang’s skill as a writer.) It wasn’t quite what I was hoping for after enjoying the hell out of “Exhalation”, but I still look forward to delving more into Chiang’s earlier works.