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July 2, 2009

The Other Wind, Moby Dick, &c

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — inky @ 7:02 pm

I’m finally reading a few books again so here are a few lines about them:

The Other Wind (Ursula K. LeGuin): This got recommended to me by somebody as one of those soul-changing books. It was indeed pretty good, despite my rusty memory of who all these people were (it’s probably been ten years since I read Tehanu). Not soul-changing, though. But I guess this is one of those things that Adam talks about, where it’s not just about the thing, it’s about you finding the thing at the right time for you, and forever after you can’t look at the thing without it resonating with who you are and who you were and — anyway, I guess the moral here is I’m no longer sure I’d dig The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars so much if I read it now. Still, recommended.

Moby-Dick (Herman Melville): It’s hard to get over how nuts this book was. I wonder what the reaction was at the time — my automatic assumption is we’re way more post-modern these days and better-equipped to cope, but I guess Tristram Shandy came out a century earlier, so what do I know. Anyway, my main thoughts are: 1) I was expecting more subtext and metaphor, when in fact the themes and motifs are almost all explicitly stated in the novel (to excess, in fact) 2) the best parts are definitely the description of the actual act of whaling — the cataloging of whale types and literary analysis of the color white got a little old after a while.

Mainspring (Jay Lake): I guess if I’m going to read the guy’s LJ I should read something by him (though I’m not following this rule for Nick Mamatas), and this is apparently the recommended one. It’s pretty decent; obviously the main thing is the premise (a literal take on God-as-watchmaker) but the characters are sketched well enough and there are various fun world bits. The main flaw is the structure of the plot, I think: while it’s fine for travelogues like this (alas, I cannot use the word ‘picaresque’) to be a little disjointed, here it was often unclear when a character was going to be important and when they were just brief scenery, and that made things fairly confusing. But I was mostly reading for the premise and that was cool; the ending was a little confusing but suitably epic, so all in all, good show.

The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters (Gordon Dahlquist): This is notable to IF fans as one of the books that Random House hired someone to write an IF game as a promo for. The games in turn are notable for being not very good, which is a pity since the book is pretty decent. It’s a hefty book, over 750 pages, and fits in three protagonists with interweaving stories and a half-dozen antagonists and associated conspiracies. The magic gadgets at the heart of the plot are cool and the characters are colorful if sketchily drawn (and points, by the way, for good antagonists — they’re not stupid or weak or boring, but also not overpowerful). Still, I’m not sure it felt like it needed to be 750 pages. The ending was action-packed but not quite satisfying; the protagonists did save the day but didn’t answer enough of the questions about what’s going on. I’m really not sure what the sequel is going to do, but I guess the fact that I’m going to read it is a vote in favor of this book.

The Alchemist’s Pursuit (Dave Duncan): I think this is turning into one of those things like Snake Agent was for me, where the book is objectively only so-so, but the setting is so delightful I cannot not read more. Basically I will enjoy any book set in Renaissance Italy, and when you add swordplay, the occult, and then make it a murder mystery, I am pretty much sold regardless of the quality of the book. Which is enh. I mean, yeah, it’s got interesting stuff going on but the mystery is really weak (I think each book has a weaker mystery — probably Duncan isn’t really a mystery writer, he’s a fantasy writer, and just got lucky with the first book) and there is a lot of deus ex machina going on in the plot in general (which gets explicitly lampshaded but that doesn’t help it any). Oh well.

The Art of Eating (M.F.K. Fisher): Holy crap, is Fisher a good writer. I think I’d only read How To Eat a Wolf before, and while that holds up decently on a re-read, The Gastronomical Me is knock-your-socks-off crazy good. I think the deal is that unlike a lot of food writers she’s not just interested in food as a thing in itself, she’s interested in people, and she’s interested in food because she sees it as a fundamental part of human experience. There isn’t actually that much food porn here — like, she gives some recipes, and she talks about food she likes, but she doesn’t go into detail about the food, she goes into detail about the sensations of eating food you like, about her interactions with the waiter, about going to a restaurant you once loved with someone you desperately want to impress and how things don’t always quite measure up to your memory of– well, anyway. Highly recommended, for foodies or not.


  1. It DOES exist!

    Also, now I really want to check out that last one.

    Comment by ParserGirl — July 2, 2009 @ 7:54 pm

  2. Re: The Other Wind – I loved this book mainly because it washed the taste of Tehanu out of my mouth.

    Re: Renaissance Italy – Have you read The Spirit Ring? (LM Bujold’s first fantasy novel.)

    Comment by JoeNotCharles — July 3, 2009 @ 6:47 am

  3. Whoah, I had no idea — I think every time I heard about The Spirit Ring I thought it was part of her newer fantasy series, which didn’t sound that thrilling. I am totally looking this one up.

    Comment by inky — July 3, 2009 @ 8:33 am

  4. […] so I guess I should put in a cut. The Dark Volume (Gordon Dahlquist): Ok, so this is the sequel to Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, and once again I find myself slogging through a sequel hoping it will be different from the first […]

    Pingback by The Dark Volume, The Manual of Detection « inky has a blog — July 23, 2009 @ 7:31 pm

  5. FWIW, re Bujold’s recent fantasy series, my older brother had been on my case to read The Curse of Chalion. He knows I don’t care for the Vorkosigan series at all, but Chalion had apparently become his New Favorite Thing. So I read the first, and … yes, it’s worth reading, even for a confirmed Miles-loather like myself. :) It not only attempts some quite unusual things in the telling, it succeeds rather well [intentionally vague here, obviously].

    Just FYI.

    Comment by ctate — July 27, 2009 @ 7:10 am

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