Saturday, October 01, 2005

Big roundup

posted by Tim Walters @ 3:31 PM

Two weeks back from Different Skies, and I still haven't recovered--I threw my neck out and caught a cold. I was hoping to wait until I became compos mentis before doing the catch-up post, but instead you'll have to settle for this.

Roger Zelazny, The Chronicles Of Amber. I hadn't read this from the Seventies, and remembered it as the start of Zelazny's downhill slide, but when I saw it in two volumes for ├╝bercheap, I couldn't resist it. It turns out that as five-volume omnipotence fantasies go, it's pretty tight. The beginning is very grabby, and although some of the tension is inevitably lost when Corwin regains his memory, the super-twisty intrigue plot just keeps on coming, with hints from earlier books paying off in later ones. I wouldn't hold it up to Lord Of Light, or even Doorways In The Sand (my favorite "light" Zelazny), but it was well worth spending a day with.

W. S. B. Mathews, A Popular History Of Music. Published in 1891. I was quite intrigued by the Victorian mindset here--Western functional harmony is the goal of all musical striving; modes were correctly abandoned in favor of "true" major and minor; equal temperament is the scientifically correct tuning; etc. Little did Mr. Mathews know what was coming! That said, there was a lot of interesting material here. How accurate it is in light of current scholarship I have no idea.

Harold L. Berger, Science Fiction and the New Dark Age. A Seventies study of dystopian SF. I was surprised to find out how few of the books I'd read.

Arthur Conan Doyle, The Lost World and Other Stories. I had never read any of the Professor Challenger stories before; this volume seems to have them all. The Lost World itself is quite enjoyable; Challenger is as funny as he's intended to be, and the adventure aspects hold up well. After that Doyle seems to have lost interest. "The Poison Belt" isn't even a story, exactly; the Earth passes through a section of bad aether, with unlikely effects, while the characters don't do much besides sit in a room. "The Land Of Mist" starts off quite well, but the central mystery is resolved early, after which the story turns into a tedious, didactic tract. The last two stories are short and gimmicky, but OK.

John McWhorter, The Power Of Babel. Fun linguistic anecdotes, supporting the serious point that language is highly fluid.

James P. Blaylock, All The Bells On Earth. Rather similar to The Last Coin and The Paper Grail: an eccentric protagonist and his well-drawn friends confront bizarre, scary magic in contemporary California. Like those books, though, it's very good, and very distinctively Blaylock.

Ursula K. LeGuin, City Of Illusions. For some reason, I had never gotten around to this one. It's minor LeGuin, but that's just fine by me. Books set after the collapse of civilization, with one character setting out to find out what's going on, are a dime a dozen, but this never feels cliched.

Larry Niven, Ringworld. Good clean fun.

John Varley, Steel Beach. The Heinlein influence is more pronounced than ever in this return to the Eight Worlds, a prequel of sorts to The Ophiuchi Hotline (although there's an auctorial warning not to look too closely at continuity). However, unlike Heinlein, Varley's discursiveness doesn't (usually) get annoying. A worthy successor, but read TOH first.

Doris Piserchia, Earthchild. Wow! Very strange, very good. The closest I can come to describing it is Drinking Sapphire Wine crossed with Hothouse... but that's not very close. Suffice it to say that it's a far-future post-human Earth story that defies all expectations. I'll definitely be reading more by her.