did not finish Archives

March 05, 2005

Wolfe - The Wizard

Gene Wolfe
The Wizard
New York : Tor Books, 2004.

This is the sequel to The Knight.

What can I say - partway through this I realized that I had no idea what was going on, was having trouble keeping track of the characters and more importantly of the characters motivations, and that the only reason I was turning the pages was the power and beauty of the language.

So, I put it down after about 100 pages and picked up Joyce's Ulysses. I did not finish that either, but I got another couple of chapters in and it was actually an easier read with more sentences that were more compelling. I really like the famous "Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the internal organs of beasts and fowl."

At least I figured out the justification for the stylized simplicity of Wolfe's narrative voice - our hero has spent time in the next plane of existence and only returned from ecstasy to the ordinary recently. As a result his memories are odd, his perceptions are odd, and his narrative voice combines the simplicity of a stylized child with the detailed recollection of a mature mind.

Did not finish, probably will never pick up again.

Posted by Red Ted at 11:05 AM | Comments (0)

December 20, 2004

Butler - Parable of the Sower

Octavia E. Butler
Parable of the Sower
New York : Four Walls Eight Windows, c1993.

Octavia Butler is a powerful prose stylist who creats strong and unusual characters. I like this.

Parable of the Sower is set in a dystopia California built around a "if this goes on" scenario of gated communities and the breakdown of law and order.

It is a very good book.

I was not in the mood for a dystopia.

I stopped after some 20 pages. I might read it sometime in the future when I am in a different mood - the book was simply licorice and I was in the mood for orange.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:27 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Delderfield - Give us this Day

R. F. (Ronald Frederick) Delderfield
Give us this day
New York, Simon and Schuster [1973]

Delderfield reminds me of Wagner sometimes.

This is not a good thing.

Both produced vast stretches of material that makes you wonder why you are sitting through it, broken by occasional moments of sublimity or bathos, or in Delderfield's case a sort of prosaic sublime bathos, if that makes any sense.

Delderfield wrote a lot about 19th and early 20th century England. Some of it is good. Most of it is long. Much of it is too long for the material.

One of his opuses (opi?) is the story of Swann, a cavalryman who returns from putting down the Sepoy Mutiny in India with a fortune in rubies hidden in his belt, and uses that fortune to set up a business using horses and wagons to "fill in the gaps" between the railroad spurs in the second half of the nineteenth century. The book is long, and has two sequals each even longer than the one before. This is the final sequal, and I could not finish it.

I got a good 500 pages into the book before I finally convinced myself that I was turning the pages just to get to the end so I could say I had read it. That is not really reading a book, so I sent it back without turning the last 200 pages.

The problem is simply that the vast stretches of tedium were not worth the few transcendent moments. He has some good moments - when George Swann (son and business heir of old Adam) uses two early model trucks and a modified horse wagon to lug a six ton battleship turret some hundred-odd miles across England, well, that chapter works. At his best Delderfield is capable of taking the prosaic events of daily life and the large events that punctuate a business or career and turning them into sublime or transcendent moments, paens to the human spirit, and powerful invocations of English nationalism. He does this best of all in his two-volume bit about "The Suburb" but parts of Swann's world also do it.

At his worst, you get bored out of your gourd watching the culture hero wander through life, with adoring wife behind him and large troupe of thinly fleshed out, largely neglected children scattering around them. That is a little unfair - Delderfield does try to give the second generation real personalities in this volume where he had not done so in A Horseman Riding By, but the marriage is the same and the patriarch raising his huge brood through benign neglect and good luck, that is the same. I think that one reason why To Serve Them All my Days works as well as it does is that he manages to limit the offspring to a manageable number, although even there the kids are raised off stage and you get the sense that dad is vaguely aware of some short people living in the house while mom knows all the details. And the book is about dad.

I think I am Delderfielded out. I read too many of his novels in a few months' span.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:16 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 09, 2004

Alexie - Toughest Indian

Sherman Alexie
The toughest Indian in the world : stories
New York : Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000.

This is a book of short stories.

I am not familiar with the conventions and expectations of the modern high fiction short story. I read a couple of these, and they were Lincoln good: if you are the sort of person who likes that sort of a thing, then that is exactly the sort of thing that you would like.

I did not finish it.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:47 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 30, 2004

Crichton - Eaters of the Dead

Michael Crichton
Eaters of the Dead

Michael Crichton might be a very bright guy in person, but he has a real knack for writing stupid books that become popular books. His books have a peculiar kind of stupidity - the book itself acts as if it is quite clever, and so the reader is left trying to decide if the book is so smart that they can't see what is so smart about it, or if the book is meant to be a deadpan parody of a smart book. Either way, I don't much like them.

I did enjoy watching the movie The Thirteenth Warrior and so I grabbed this off the shelf of audiobooks. Bad idea.

I wish I could give a better critique, but after getting into disk 2 of 5 nothing has happened worth taking any note of. Its pointless rambling annoyed me, and I turned it off. Not recommended. In fact, I need to remember to save time and aggravation and simply say no to anything else this guy wrote.

Posted by Red Ted at 12:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Shipping News

E. Annie Proulx
The shipping news
Hingham, MA : Wheeler, 1994.
Narrated performance by Paul Hecht.

This might be a good book, but it is not a book I wanted to listen to. I got into disc 2 of 11, with our hero finally making it to Newfoundland, and I found that I just had no desire for more.

On the good side, Proulx writes well with a lot of moments where a turn of phrase or a metaphor jumps out and grabs you. But, many of her characters talk alike, almost in shorthand, and Hecht reads their lines alike as well. It may be intentional that Diamond, the African-American copyeditor, and the Aunt, born in Newfoundland and all pale white and blotchy, talk in exactly the same rhythms and with exactly the same trick of phrasing, but it bothered me.

It is an effective way of phrasing: lots of clauses; strung together like lumps of coal; crossing and re-crossing their sounds. I liked it; it kept me reading, listening, as things moved past me. But, as you can see from this parody, it gets old quickly.

I might try this again in paper rather than as an audiobook. I kept wanting to skip ahead a bit, to get past the bit where Quoyle is being a great lump of a nebbish and into the bits where he changes and evolves. I suppose I have little patience for unhappy books, and the start is so over-the-top unhappy that it must have been meant to be funny.

Not a good audiobook.

Posted by Red Ted at 12:16 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 13, 2004

Zahn - Green and grey

Timothy Zahn
The Green and the Gray
New York : Tor Books, 2004.

Speaking of bad books, here is another one.

Before I ran screaming I figured out that there are two groups of aliens hiding in New York City, that the Greens have ties to trees and the Greys to stonework, that somehow a ritual killing of one Green would settle the war between the two, and that a dysfunctional New York couple have gotten into the middle of all this.

As with most bad books, this was bad because it was not compelling. The couple was dysfunctional and flawed - he was both weak and demanding, she was clumsy and helpless - and the couple was beginning to overcome their problems under the stress of the situation. But they still were not people I had any intention of spending any time with. The aliens were generic; the prose was not compelling; the situation was too contrived for my taste. It may be that they were being true to genre and I do not care for that particular genre, always a possibility, but from where I was sitting it just sucked.

So I stopped reading. This is another "could not start."

I don't know if I will read Zahn in the future, so far the only half-decent things he wrote were his first few Star Wars novels. The rest of his material has just barely been enough to get me to take it off the shelf, but this was the first that looked even interesting enough to follow me home. It was a very disappointing experience.

Posted by Red Ted at 01:32 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Barnes - Cestus Deception

Steven Barnes
The Cestus deception
New York : Ballantine Books, c2004.

Steven Barnes is a perfectly competant writer. He has done some collaberation with Niven and Pournelle; his Streetlethal and followup novels are a nice mixture of martial arts, distopia, and love; he is normally someone whose stuff I like to read.

George Lucas presides over an ever expanding empire of suck. This empire has gone from the first movies to the later dreck, from the first few novels to the great Star Wars writing franchise, and at every stage the quality has declined.

The Star Wars book empire has hired a number of good writers to do novels for them. Some of them are not bad - I liked Walter Jon Williams' Destiny's Way while Timothy Zahn's Star Wars stuff is better than his stand-alone works. Most of them are terrible - all the faults of Lucas' world and none of the charm.

Barnes Cestus Deception is in the clone wars subset of the Star Wars franchise and, well, I found it absolutely unreadable. The header for this entry reads "did not finish" but it should have been called "could not start." The characters are more wooden and paper-thin than usual. The dialogue sucks. The premises are faulty. The politics are stupid. Nothing about the entire experience was enthralling or compelling. I found that I had no reason to care about the events, the characters, the plot or the world. So I stopped. And all that suckiness was in the first dozen pages. It was really most remarkably bad.

I like Barnes. I will read his next book whenever it comes out. Unless, of course, it is in Lucasworld. I have started a boycot of Lucasworld.

Posted by Red Ted at 01:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 12, 2004

Forester - Lord Hornblower

Cecil Scott Forester
Lord Hornblower
Bath, [England] : Chivers Audio Books ; Hampton, NH : Chivers North America, p1999.
Read by Christian Rodska.
Novel Orig. pub. Boston, Little, Brown and company, 1946.

Lord Hornblower is my least favorite in Forester's series, but it was one of only two available on audiobook so I started it.

The good: Forester tells some interesting stories, Hornblower is a wonderful male wish-fulfillment character: capable yet self-doubting, inarticulate and clumsy yet women love him, smart and strong and tone-deaf. Forester gives a good simplified view of the Augustan navy - folks who like this sort of thing might want to read N.A.M. Roger The Wooden World for a deeper look at patrons and clients, shipboard routine, and the institutional mechanics of the 18th century navy.

The bad: it is just not a compelling book. I don't like the plot; I don't like what Forester does to several of his continuing characters; I don't find the supporting characters all that compelling; the whole thing feels like a writing exercise and not like a tale that must be told.

So, I turned it off after about 3 tapes.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:37 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 01, 2004

England - Rewind

Terry England

There are some interesting questions we could ask about what happens if aliens arrive, visit for a while, turn 13 random people into 13 year old children - with their adult personalities and memories - and then leave.

England does not ask them, at least not before chasing me out of his book at around the 100 page mark. Instead he gives us a dystopia where government studies go wrong, the rewound people are remanded to the custody of their families, treated as minor children, and taken advantage of. He may have done more with the idea, but I doubt it. I was so turned off that I did not even bother flipping ahead to the end to see what happened.

Great concept, stupid execution.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:36 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Graham - Fifth Ring

Mitchell Graham
The fifth ring

Some books are remarkable for their plot. Others are remarkable for their prose. A few are remarkable for both. The Fifth Ring is remarkable for both.

Consider the plot: an psychpathic despot rules the East after having had his last attempt to conquer the world stopped by a coalition of the free states. He finds a new magical artifact, but it requires something possessed by a young farmboy who is also a skilled fencer. The farmboy heads to town for a fencing tournament, but meets a dark and forbidding stranger on the road, looking for someone. It goes on, but I did not.

The prose was also remarkably bad. The dialogue was wooden, the situations contrived, the few interesting moments carved with a chainsaw not shaped with a knife.

I could not decide which was more annoying, the plot or the prose, and after changing my mind a few times I resolved to end the debate by closing the book never to re-open it. I think I got 40 pages before my cliche quota was overwhelmed, and my prose filter clogged.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:31 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 02, 2004

Waugh - Vile Bodies

Evelyn Waugh
Vile Bodies

One of the weblogs I frequent was praising this as Waugh's funniest book - it might be the basis for a forthcoming moving picture.

So, I summoned it and tried it.

This is social satire aimed at a people and a society. It failed, at least for me. I see no reason to read a book in which all of the characters are detestable and the world they live in is both banal and brutal. Waugh did make fun of his characters, and he projected his world into a near future dystopie, but I got no pleasure in reading about people I did not like being made fun of. It was an exercise in being mean. And mean for its own sake is boring. So I stopped reading it.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:11 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 16, 2004

Ringo & Evans - Road to Damascus

John Ringo and Linda Evans
Road to Damscus

Ringo has some strengths. Writing a novel revolving around politics and elections is not one of them. I stopped reading about a third of the way through, when the villain turned out to be a politician, no the caricature of a politician, in the worst tradition of right wing science fiction.

The book reads like Ringo, so I will refer to the authors as Ringo - not sure how they divided up the writing tasks.

Ringo has an odd habit, very visible in this book, of combining libertarian and classical liberal politics emphasizing the role of the state as a machine to protect and serve individual citizens and a constant recurrence to fascist-style language evaluating the worth of those individual citizens primarily in military terms - are they fit to serve the state. It leads to an odd sort of cognitive dissonance when I read it, and while this dissonance is less visible in Ringo's more purely military novels, it undermines and cripples this political morality tale.

I did not finish it. I will not finish it. Having started this I am now less likely to read more Ringo. But see above for comments on Emerald Sea.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:43 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 19, 2004

Shaara - The Killer Angels

Shaara, Michael - The killer angels : a novel
Prince Frederick, Md. : Recorded Books, p1991.
ISBN 0788739808 :
"Originally published in 1974 by David McKay Co., Inc., New York"

I read Killer Angels a few years back when the movie Gettysburg came out, and I grabbed this on CD as a car reading.

I did not finish it, got about halfway through and then no longer wanted to listen. I made it as far as the afternoon on the second day, with Longstreet preparing his assault late in the day, getting off slowly, and then discovering Sickles in the peach orchard.

The following comment will upset both fans of the Confederate Army and people who care about the Holocaust, but I find reading about Gettysburg to be distressingly like reading about Hitler in his bunker in 1945. In both cases I am very glad that the right people won the war. And, in both cases I have trouble reading the accounts of the losers -- they are making bad decisions that will have bad consequences for themselves, their nation, and the people whose lives depend on those decisions. So I am left torn, wishing that Lee had listened to Longstreed and moved to the right behind Meade, or that Longstreet and turned Hood loose to swing around behind the round tops into the Union baggage train; wishing that Hitler had issued moving retreat orders rather than stand and die orders, or that he remembered enough from his own wartime service to know that the icons on the map no longer represented large, powerful, military units. And yet, at the same time that I wish that Lee and Hitler had been more effective and made better decisions, I am also glad that they did make the wrong decisions.

I think that these mixed emotions are a reflection of the way that I read. I read for pleasure. My work reading is about people who try to accomplish things and generally fail, or generate unexpected consequences, or blind themselves to the bad outcomes that come with their desired goals. History, as a discipline, spends a lot of time looking at the warts, if only to explain the mistakes of the past. So, when I read for fun, I want to read about sucess, not failure. At that level fiction is a form of adolescent wish-fulfillment for me.

And, yet, if a piece of fiction is too easy, too obvious, I put it down unfinished. So when I read something like David Weber's Honor Harrington Series I get frustrated in the second quarter of the series because the villains are so stupid. There is as little vicarious pleasure in reading about a fictional character trouncing a stupid enemy as there is in reading, oh, yet another theory-driven screed ripping through selected aspects of the past in order to make an argument that can be countered by basic logic or basic awareness of the rest of the evidence.

I don't know if this makes sense. Time to go back to the real work.

Posted by Red Ted at 03:11 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 19, 2004

Steinbeck - Grapes of Wrath

I once again did not finish John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath.

I grabbed Grapes and a Heinlein from the library at the same time. I started Steinbeck first and got about five tapes into the sixteen-tape book before I could not handle it any more. The books is wonderfully written, Steinbeck does a nice job alternating chapters, one about the Joad family, one stand-alone vignette, one about the Joad family, another stand-alone vignette, and so on. He writes with power and fluidity, his characters talk like people and not like lectures, and the entire book is just plan sad. No, more than sad, it is a tragedy in progress with the sure knowledge (I have read it before, after all) that worse things are yet to come.

And, while I did not remember all the details of what the Joad family would encounter, I decided that I did not particularly desire to encounter that future tragedy. I read fiction for escape, or to evaluate it for teaching, but rarely because I want to be angered or depressed. So, the Joad family and their jalopy went back to the library just as they were in the process of driving away from Uncle John's farm.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:21 AM | Comments (0)

April 28, 2004

Cornwell - Black Notice

Patricia Cornwell, Black Notice

I have no idea if this is a good book or a bad book. Partway through the first tape I got bored and turned it off, and before I could commute again I had gotten Steinbeck Grapes of Wrath and Heinlein Moon is a Harsh Mistress as additional audiobooks. Cornwell runs a distant third to these two classics, and back to the library it went.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:15 AM | Comments (0)

April 25, 2004

Francis - Field of Thirteen

I started but did not finish Dick Francis' collection of short stories, Field of Thirteen last week. I have read it before, short stories depend in part on the twist at the end, and I had no real desire to re-read the last two thirds of the book.

Still, there are some good bits in there.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:10 AM | Comments (0)

April 06, 2004

Mystic River

Did not finsih Mystic River by Dennis Leary, on audio tape. It is a sad book full of tragedy impending, I listen to tapes while commuting too and from school, and I am in the middle of teaching the Great War and the Russian Revolution with the tragedy of the Second World War impending in the very near future.

I could not take so much sadness, even if it is well written and well crafted. The book has too much potty language for me to play it with the toddler in the car, and so it went back.

I can see why Sheila O'Malley loved the book, and I might try it again this summer.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:00 AM | Comments (0)

March 26, 2004

Hanson - Soul of Battle

Victor David Hanson, The Soul of Battle

Not compelling. Popular history of Epaminidous of Thebes, William Tecumseh Sherman, and George Patton. I got partway through Thebes and realized that I did not care to spend the time to figure out if he was blowing smoke by writing internal contradictions or if he had something useful to say.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:25 AM | Comments (0)