Monday, April 25, 2005

Sweet Dreams

posted by Tim Walters @ 10:15 PM

Bought Sweet Dreams by Daniel Dennett on impulse at the checkout counter, in hardback yet. I'm a big Dennett fan, but this one isn't really worth bothering with--it's a collection of papers and talks, quite short and with no attempt made to edit out redundancies. There are whole paragraphs that appear near-verbatim in more than one chapter.

The book is meant as an update of Consciousness Explained, but it's basically just a few more go-rounds about qualia. Not Necessary.

Well, I De-clare

posted by Tim Walters @ 9:55 PM

Declare by Tim Powers is neither his best nor his worst. There seem to be several people doing spy/occult crossover these days (I know Charles Stross has something of the sort going), probably more than the conceit can handle.

I was very impressed by the beginning section (set in Paris during WWII), but after that it declines somewhat. The book cuts back and forth between 1963 and various times before that, which would be fine except that most of the earlier events are also explicitly recalled by the protagonist in 1963, so that you end up reading about everything twice (or even more), which gets old after a while. Worse, in a book that is almost entirely told from the protagonist's limited viewpoint (and depends on that for some key effects), he throws in a couple of chapters told from others', just to get some relatively unimportant information across. This seems lazy and sloppy, and particularly weird when Kim Philby (a non-fictional character) is given the mike.

And after a while, one begins to wonder whether secret agents really drink that much--it doesn't seem very wise.

On the other hand, real secret agents presumably don't have to face the supernatural on a regular basis. Powers, as usual, is deft at portraying magic in a credible way, although he doesn't do it quite as well here as in, say, Last Call (which I highly recommend). He explains things that don't really need explaining, possibly because the book is aimed at the mass market.

Despite all that, I have to say that I was turning pages like billy-o. Even middling Powers ain't bad.

One more gripe--this book has a blurb on the spine ("Dazzling. --Dean Koontz"). Criminy dutch.

How does presentation affect flavor?

posted by Todd T @ 12:23 PM

I posted this at alt.books.ghost-fiction in March, and I wonder what you think about the subject:

"You raise an interesting issue here: how does the format in which we read a work influence our reaction to it? Although I have not done scientific side-by-side study of this (in fact I can't because a second reading is different from a first anyhow), I think it matters a lot in my reading. I do react to the arrangement of stories within a book, or as a book, as John is talking about, but also these:

I find myself trying to read faster from an imposingly large book than from a smaller one, perhaps because I feel as though I'm not making much progress vs. the pages still to be read.
I can't hold a large book easily in bed, which is where I do 75% of my reading, so all of these books are read in a different environment than most others, and in some way this affects my concentration, mood, something. It seems to matter whether it is bright or dark outside, whether it is raining, whether I'm comfortable or not (say on a bus or subway).

In some way that is hard to describe, I get a different "feel" from stories in books with particularly small or large page margins, books that are heavy and substantial, books with very small or large fonts, books with lots of small illustrations or flourishes that are there just for visual appeal of the page, books with musty odors or new-glue smells. I would even say that the cover art I see every time I pick up the book affects my reading instrument in some small but real way.

None of these factors overwhelm the effect of the work itself, but they all do somehow affect precisely how much I enjoy it or get out of it, even how I interpret it.

Am I crazy? Am I just a poor reader? Is that laughter I'm hearing? Have I gone way off the po-mo deep end?

Assuming there's some such set of effects, how does one be sure that their reaction to a story is fair and appropriate?

- Todd T. "

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Montaigne and Marquez

posted by Tim Walters @ 10:23 PM

Reading Paul Graham's tasty and provocative essays reminded me that I'd been meaning to re-read the man himself, Michel de Montaigne, inventor of the form and the most startlingly modern writer of the Renaissance. I don't have anything to say that isn't said better here.

On the plane back from NAB, I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez' Chronicle of a Death Foretold, the story of a murder that nobody, including the killers, wants to happen. Unfortunately, the town is fatally passive, and fingers don't get lifted. The depiction of the same sort of passivity got to be a bit much in One Hundred Years Of Solitude, but in this much shorter work is quite effective. Possibly it's a metaphor for Colombian life in general.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Fox in Stockings

posted by Todd T @ 6:15 AM

Finished LADY INTO FOX this morning. I have to agree with Tim that it is just right. It's a fine book. I enjoyed the writing, and sympathized (might say remembered) the twists back and forth between extremes in the protagonist's emotions as he struggles to deal. If there is any flaw in the book at all, I think it is that the final sentence only rings true in the metaphorical sense, and not as part of the story on its face. I can't quite believe that this guy, who has been through what he's been through and become what he is, would experience that fate, but I can certainly buy into it in the sense of how people eventually come out of such passages in real life. Exceedingly minor cavil. (Is "minor cavil" redundant?) Great story, thanks for the gift, Tim.

I found it amusing that there is a blurb on the back that I dare say pants for more, from Virginia Woolf. Forget it, Ginnie, ladies turn into foxes, but it's MAN INTO WOLF, and TEENAGER INTO WOLF, etc.

I looked at the list of other McSweeney's/Collins books advertised in the back, and reminded that I have heard good things about ENGLISH AS SHE IS SPOKE. Apparently truly funny. Any exposure to that one?

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Choice Joyce

posted by Todd T @ 7:33 PM

No, not James.

I am a fan of Graham Joyce, increasingly so with each book I read. The last one I read was DARK SISTER. Lisa read it and did not care for it, so I had to find out why and whether I agreed. Frankly, I do not. With no aspersion meant towards her at all, I think the book is more complex than most that she likes.

It's about witches, modern and otherwise. There is no easy way to synopsize it without spoiling just about every development. I think the theme is the difficulty older people have in passing on their wisdom to the young, and in understanding when that wisdom must bend to the times. I say 'I think' because I can see other readings, and Joyce does not bludgeon us with Message at all. The emotions evoked by the last quarter of the book are complex, and the theme is underlined by symbology that some may not interpret as I did. I am a parent, and a person who harbors serious regrets about not learning more from people who are now gone. Whether this book would hit people who do not share those traits as hard as it did me, I couldn't say.
Although I have never participated in anything witchy and don't know what I think about whether wicca has anything going for it, I did feel that if it works, this must be how it feels to work it. I felt verisimilitude in the way the spells and senses of the witches were portrayed.

While I found the communications difficulties of the protagonist couple quite believable, there were a few clumsy moments right at the start that were probably meant to support that character situation but rang false. But this is my only cavil. It's not THE TOOTH FAIRY, which is still my favorite Joyce and is I feel a tour de force, but it's good stuff.

Fools Errant

posted by Todd T @ 7:26 PM

Right now I'm reading LADY INTO FOX by David Garnett - despite its being only 80 pages long, I keep going to bed at midnight and falling asleep within seconds, so I am not done reading it after three nights, through no fault of the book. It is very slow to develop incident for a novella. That can be good or not so good; I'll report back.

The book I finished most recently is Matt Hughes's Vance pastiche FOOLS ERRANT, the first of a trilogy or maybe more. Here are my notes for it:

An on-target Vance pastiche. Filidor is an aimless hedonist but also nephew to the Archon, and thus in line to become leader of all. His uncle’s agent takes him on a series of adventures all about the land, through which he learns much, including
...SPOILER snipped here - the text is down below...
(I guessed this early in the book, but no harm done). The adventures are Vancian and mostly quite enjoyable. Filidor at the start is very much Cugel, arrogant and imperceptive and impulsive. By the end he has grown. Fun and although not quite there with Vance and Shea, very close and in many ways spot on.




SPOILER: that the agent is the uncle/Archon

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Krank & Crankier

posted by Tim Walters @ 9:36 PM

Finished Brian Greene's The Fabric of the Cosmos on Sunday. Greene wants to have a breezy style, but doesn't quite pull it off--he uses the Simpsons in most of his examples for no very good reason, and is forever putting really important words in italics, sometimes with exclamation points! That said, there's a lot of good info here, and I feel much more up-to-date on my physics now. Count on me dropping mention of the "Higgs boson" into casual conversation.

Stayed home sick as the proverbial hound yesterday, and read Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett and State Of The Art by Iain M. Banks in between naps. Pratchett, like Wodehouse, is always the same, but always delivers the yuks. Most of non-Culture stories in the Banks collection are fairly slight, but by no means unpleasant, and while I don't think the Culture stories are quite up to the level of his novels--Banks is nothing if not a wide-canvas man--they're certainly worthwhile addenda. Both deal with Culture citizens who have dropped out to live with barbarians (i.e. us), something we don't really see in the novels.


posted by Todd T @ 11:08 AM

Invitation via AAR went through, and so here I am.

Of course, I have nothing to say, but here I am.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Collapse (Jared Diamond)

posted by Tim Walters @ 9:07 PM

Stone blocks spin
Earth turns
It whirls, it
Hurls these men
They know no longer
Which way's which
Nor where to turn.

Supports collapse
All things once bound
Are isolate
All things once still
Are agitate
Supports give way
The world turns upside down.

--"Collapse" (Art Bears)

Saturday, April 02, 2005

All About Venus

posted by Tim Walters @ 8:32 PM

Aldiss anthology with scientific and pre-scientific speculations about Venus; excerpts from Stapledon, Burroughs, and Lewis; and stories by Anderson and Clarke. OK, but nothing special--you'd think there'd be more for Aldiss to play with, as he did so well with Space Opera and Galactic Empires, but apparently Venus just isn't as popular a setting as Mars.

An entry without parentheses! I knew I could do it.