Talk about hidden treasures! In the last few months I’ve read two works by the late great Jack Vance. These are the kind of books I kick myself for reading – because I haven’t read them sooner.
Let’s start off with some general discussion about the author. This is a guy who knows how to be spare when he needs to be spare, florid when he needs to be florid. He knows how much characterization someone needs and how the character is serving the story’s purpose. I mean, someone who writes, there are moments when you’re reading Vance and you think – ok, this is how it’s done. This is what I should be striving for. He’s so deft. He can build a world in a page and half and it is as real as anything the fantasy writers take pages and pages to develop. But let’s get to the specifics. Continue reading “Reviews: Suldrun’s Garden and The Demon Princes”
I’ve written before about how I’ve become more choosy in my old age when it comes to writing. If something doesn’t grab my attention early, I will quit it. Books I have quit because they don’t grab me include:
- Wait, that would be mean I need to list them.
- Mid-post I’m rethinking that strategy.
- I’d rather be a Positive Paul than a Negative Ned
So, instead of dwelling on the books where I said “I’ve got to quit you,” here are some books that kept my attention recently: Continue reading “Pluses and minuses”
Who doesn’t like a good haunted house story? Well, I suppose some don’t (who are you people?) but given the enduring popularity of the genre, there must a be a sizeable chunk of readers out there who like reading about things that go bump in the night. In my experience it is more difficult to sustain a haunted house story for a whole novel, especially when you compare that to how effective short stories can be. How well does Richard Matheson do in Hell House? Read further if you’re ok with spoilers (though the book was published in 1971, so it’s not exactly hot off the presses.)
Continue reading “Hell House”
There are a host of reasons to read this book if you are a science fiction fan, and even if you’re not. Jerry Pournelle has put together an adventure story that is gripping from start to finish: Starswarm. Continue reading “Starswarm”
My current car book (popping in the CDs, very old school) is a biography of James Madison. It’s good, and I’ll maybe do a review of it later, but I want to talk about a comment I heard this morning that the biographer makes as he is describing how Madison and Jefferson first conceived of the Republican (now Democrat) party.
Continue reading “Biography on Madison and the Future of America”
I recently finished a book called Way Station by Clifford D. Simak, and thought it was good enough to post about. Enoch Wallace is a civil war soldier whose house is transformed into a transfer station for aliens traveling around in space. It’s kind of a like a backwater bus stop no one stays at because there’s nothing to see. He becomes the keeper of the station, and therefore immortal. The story picks up with the government finally noticing the strange behavior of this hermit, hiding away in a remote part of Wisconsin, who never ages and who sends diamonds away every now and then to maintain his funds. You’ve probably never heard of the great diamond mines of Wisconsin. Well, neither has the U.S. Government. Enoch has lived a hundred years or so as the keeper without an incident, but forces beyond his control are bringing things to a head. (Warning: the analysis of the book below contains spoilers). Continue reading “Just a Pit Stop in the Galaxy”
Two books I’ve read in the last few months share themes that make them worthy of a post (more than worthy!) They’re both excellent, tightly written, suspenseful horror fiction, and both explore a mother realizing her child is the embodiment of evil. These two masterpieces of Mommy Macabre (mahvelous!) are Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin and The Bad Seed by William March. If you haven’t read them, and don’t like it when someone gives away the plot, read no further, but for the rest, let us proceed. Continue reading “Oh Mother Where Art Thou?”
The Changeling Prince was a very readable book, and Velde does a great job of having you root for the central character, Weiland. He is a sympathetic young man/wolf put into impossible situations, and this is all to Velde’s credit. The drawbacks of the book are: 1) Weiland doesn’t really think his way through any of the problems. When there is a big reveal at the end, it isn’t because the main character has reasoned it out, which is ultimately more satisfying for the reader; rather, it is just dumb luck. 2) The climax is rushed and feels very deus ex machina. I won’t give much away when I note that the character of Kedj, the villainess’ henchman, is incomplete and yet he figures heavily in the final crisis. 3) The villainess is vile to the extreme but she lacks in levels, character shadings that would make her more realistic. She is a spoiled child with incredible power, but that is about as deep as it goes.
All in all, I’m glad I read it. A little above the level of juvenile fantasy in terms of writing style and subject matter. I would give it a partial recommend.
Have you ever had a book blow your mind in the first ten pages? Well, I’m seventy or so pages into Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder and my mind’s been blowing up like the last thirty seconds of a fourth of July fireworks show.
Taleb talks about how Antifragility is the one central idea of his life. It is the opposite of fragile, which most people improperly define as “stable, resistant, long-lasting, unbreakable, etc.” Instead, anti-fragile things, such as our bodies, naturally become stronger when they are stressed. Think about our immune systems. They do not break under stress, they improve.
One interesting note, for the Russian language major in me, is that Taleb scans all the major languages and none of them have a word like “antifragile” to capture this concept. It’s a literal linguistic blind spot. (Did I make a half pun there?) And as we’ve sought to lower the stress we experience in modern society, we’ve protected ourselves and become, ironically, more fragile in the process. We have put our happiness and health at risk.
We know about antifragility intuitively. We have the old adage: “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” But it’s more nuanced than that. Sometimes a stress will indeed kill you (see knife, directed toward chest). But totally eliminating stress from your life? Extremely bad.
How does this apply to you? How it applies to me is what’s making my brain go kaboom. How often do I avoid risks because I fear pain/loss/backlash/stress? How much more full would my life be if I risked more and received the necessary feedback stress incurs?
Taleb talks about how the antifragile person/system/thing makes many small recoverable errors, is stressed by them, recovers and becomes stronger because of them. So, it’s time to stretch and “stress” myself out.
I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but a few years ago I stopped reading a book if I was no longer enjoying it. Taking this approach felt like both a luxury and a violation at the same time. Up to then, I was the good reader doobie who finished anything he started. But, maybe around the time you hit forty, and you start to see the end of the life’s road approaching, you put a premium on your time. Bad books don’t cut it.
Whoa (said Keanu), just went a little existential there…but it’s true nonetheless.
I can’t think of a time when it has happened for two books in a row, but it did recently, and I thought I’d post about why. Usually, I pick up a book because it’s been recommended somewhere, by either a friend or on another blog written by someone I respect or in a writing book. I’m no longer a willy-nilly, “hey, this cover looks nifty, maybe I’ll give it a try,” kind of joe. So, I’ve become choosier about what I even pick up, AND become much more judgmental about what I’m reading as I’m reading it.
I think the basic rule is: if I’m not completely lost in the story within the first fifty pages, the book isn’t for me. But for it to happen twice? Maybe I’m crossing the line into being too harsh… Continue reading “Two Books that were a “No,” and Why…”