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Spook Country is very good.  Here is the Wikipedia entry (  It is a political thriller [1], and while the wikipedia entry says there was some disappointment with the plot, I would say that people who are looking for plot to take the centre stage in a William Gibson novel are missing the point.  The characters are interesting, the puzzle is sufficiently unguessable that one continues happily discovering bits, and the prose is amazing.

Also the world-building is so appealing.  All things that happen, happen for human reasons without any hand-wavium.

I have recently also read Snow Crash (Neal Stephenson) 1992 and The Eye in the Pyramid, part of The Illuminatus Trilogy (Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson) 1975.  Snow Crash has a very clever opening that is a treasure of misdirection, and it has some very interesting and appealing characters, but its central premise, the method by which chaos is strewn through the virtual world, is never believable.  The Illuminatus Trilogy is humour that has dated badly, and was probably not very funny to begin with, but its wheels-within-wheels puzzle leads one to read on in hopes of improvement (it doesn't, so that's why I have only read the first book of the trilogy).

What's interesting is that both are exploring a what-if (not the same what-if) of the decline in the American social fabric.  SC takes us on a journey from California to the Pacific Northwest, in search of real world manifestations of cyberworld malefalence.  TIT is a romp [2]  through all the cold war spy tropes in search of conspiracies, much of it in New York.

Spook Country takes all the good bits (okay, Snow Crash gets a gold star for its opening) of both of these and makes something better than either.  Spook Country has the action start in California and journey up to the Pacific Northwest [3].  There is cyberness overlaid on real world business, and something dangerous comes ashore there.  And there are spies (for Spook Country this is a totally inadequate lable for what is being described, but I don't have something better to use) galore.  But the spy network has transmogrified and is being used by many people for multiple purposes.  The behaviour is antiquated, but the technology is cutting edge - and the people are very very good at what they do.  Which is the same for the cyber/virtual/net/web/world thing.  The technology is the latest, but the motivation of the people using it is not any more sophisticated than spies protecting gold (James Bond, Gold Finger - original "thriller" "romp") - but the people are very very good at what they do.

Okay - I know that both Snow Crash and The Illuminatus Trilogy were/are Science Fiction [4], and meant to be cut some suspension of disbelief slack on that account; and Spook Country is apparently all about today, and now, and just being a novel of the present - but it makes the present so strange that it reads like science fiction.  It is very good.

Try it - you'll like it.

[1] - which I have just realized a publish-speak for a puzzle book without a murder at the centre - meaning that we use" thriller" to mean spy stories, which may or may not involve murder, but murder is not the puzzle - the puzzle is what the dickens is motivating all these people to exert all this madly rambunctious effort.

[2] - "romp" is another publish-speak word, which dates (& is dated, I might add) from the late 1960's to mid 1970's to mean wild unbridled sex with lots of perfect women who each gracefully withdraw from the narrative post-orgasm - not necessarily hers.

[3] - but in Spook Country the west coast journey ends in Vancouver, where I live, in the part of town that I live in, and it is very weird seeing an author take parts of the city which are real and true, and graft on things that could be true but aren't, and make a totally fictional place that doesn't need to exist anywhere but in the novel for the novel.  Example: I bet Beenies exists somewhere in Vancouver, but it doesn't exist where Gibson puts it, but exactly that kind of restaurant could exist there without any problem at all. 

[4] - okay, yes: the science is about as hard as a post-romp dick, but YKWIM

agoodwinsmith: (Default)

I finished the third book of the Tawny Man series, which is actually the ninth book of the Farseer series.


That took way too much of my free time for I'm not sure what benefit.  I won't go back to begin the series.  I might read the next one, if she writes another in the series - but not if it is 914 freakin' paperback pages long.  Actually, I probably won't.  For the type of story (high fantasy adventure), the endings were not endings, but rather just coasting to a stop.  There were interesting characters, but the one I found most interesting and appealing died in the first (seventh) book.  I was just "not that into" the rest of the characters.

The author writes well, however.  I did not feel an urge to cast the book off my balcony, but the pages of pulsing pearlescent prose rhapsodizing vast vistas of shallow palid shadow on a lonely homeless landscape really got through to me, especially since some of the action was recounted as a truncated tale told with skipped scary stanzas.

Hmm.  It was not that bad, but it was definitely too long for me.

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This was a gift.  It is one of those Christian faith-based metaphor books.  I've read it so that I can say that I did.
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I've heard about Robin Hobb before, but not had the chance to try her work.  In Edmonton, at Wee Book Inn second-hand books,  I picked up three of her books, that I thought were an independent series, but that really formed the seventh, eighth, and ninth books of the Farseer series.  I have read two of the books "Fool's Errand" and "Golden Fool" and I refuse to start the third until next weekend, since I can't put them down.

Although they are compelling reading, I find them a little dissatisfying because they are ever so gently padded out to make three books instead of two.  It is a fantasy world which is not earth, and it has magic (several kinds) and animal companions and Medieval politics with Victorian legal system and 20th C morals.  There is a noble Queen and a Man of Mystery and several royal bastards sacrificing themselves left and right, plus a TRUE PRINCE as noble as his lady mother - and so on.

I would have wolfed this down in my twenties and looked for more.  Now, because of the padding, I find it a little excessive.  Also, I *hate* interminable series.  But you know?  It is compelling & I cried quite hard over the death of one of the animal companions.  The writer has skill, and I will finish the series.
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I've been re-reading this book since Christmas, and I'm on my third go through it.  I often do that with a favorite author's book - keep it at my bedside and read a snip before sleep, and just keep on starting again when I finish.  It is a way to feed my reading habit without letting it steal my sleep on work nights.

While not my absolute favorite Pratchett, it does contain some of my favorite quotes.  Page numbers from the 1997 HarperPrism edition.

"Aagragaah," said Detritus mournfully.
"Don't mind me, just don't spit it on my boot," said Vimes.
"It mean--" Detritus waved a huge hand, "like...dem things, what only comes in..." he paused and looked at his fingers, while his lips moved "...fours.  Aagragaah.  It mean lit'rally der time when you see dem little pebbles and you jus' *know* dere's gonna be a great big landslide on toppa you and it already to late to run.  Dat moment, dat's aagragaah."
Vimes's own lips moved.  "*Forebodings*?"
"Dat's der bunny."

It was so much easier to blame it on Them.  It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us.  If it was Them, then nothing was anyone's fault.  If it was Us, what did that make Me?  After all, I'm one of Us.  I must be.  I've certainly never thought of myself as one of Them.  We're always one of Us.  It's Them that do the bad things.

When someone tells you it is your lucky day, something bad is about to happen.

Give a man a fire and he's warm for a day, but set fire to him and he's warm for the rest of his life.

This is also the book where several (many, lots) what-everybody-knows sayings are put through the ringer and shown to be pretty damn silly.  Mostly though the medium of the Colon and Nobbs Brain Trust (from another book, I think), but others as well.

So basically my review is: if you haven't been reading Pratchett, what the hell are you waiting for?

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"The Drunkard's Walk; or how randomness rules our lives" is an interesting non-fiction book that I haven't quite finished, though I started it before Christmas.  It investigates how most of our guesses about how random things work are wrong wrong, damnably wrong.  It is interesting because it explores the problems of randomness by taking us through how to think about the problem, and it uses the accounts of the historical figures who have done so on paper (and so have left a record of their thought on the issue), to take us step by step through the ever-increasingly sophisticated ways of thinking about randomness.

I have run aground at about the point where Mlodinow has demonstrated that, because the numbers of ballots are so high in most elections, and because human error being what it is, a recount isn't likely to be any more accurate than the first count - nor are any further recounts.  I am made anxious by the idea that my utopic vision of society (where everybody gets an equal say) is underpinned by methods where the "true" count can never really be known.  It bothers me.

There's also the glee of a mathematician explaining simple-to-the-mathematician things to the great unwashed.  I suspect the author never really thought of his audience specifically as dolts, but the feeling I get is that because I don't deal well with math (I transpose numbers at random, but frequently), I am probably being bilked and bamboozled every minute of every day - maybe even including when I'm asleep.
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Okay - we're staying in with a couple of bottles of champagne to keep us company.  My new year's resolution (I haven't done resolutions since I was about 8) is to write down each book I read as I finish it, more or less.  And to start, I will name one I finished a few days ago:

Payback, Margaret Atwood, nonfiction

Best wishes for whatever would put the cherry on your topping this year.  :)
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I liked it.  I recommend it.

It is the far future.  It is set in a world (not just the particular planet of the plot) that is a cross between an Andre Norton landscape and Ammonite.  It pandered to my prejudices that people are people no matter what their faith by having a Dianic Pagan dominant institutional religion where some of the adherents are as pig-headed and prosetilyzing and condescendingly arrogant as those of any other religion that becomes powerful enough to enforce compliance.  It explored the idea of "one with nature" in a very interesting way.

I think her second book (which I read first), Nine Layers of Sky, is a tighter, better book, but The Ghost Sister is a helluva first novel.

There are some hmmmm moments at the end of the book (noted below), but they are not enough to spoil the work.  I've tried to note them in a generalized way, but I still think they will spoil the book for you.  Read the book first.

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Last night we went to the bookstore.  I hadn't been in a bookstore since just before Christmas, and it was wonderful to go into our favourite bookstore and smell that bookstore smell.  Mmmmm.  I've been staying out of bookstore because (a) I am erratically employed[1] and there is no saying that the books I buy today might need to have been rent tomorrow, and (b) I buy many more books than I have read, and if I really need a new reading experience[2] I can just go to my piles (yes, plural) of unread books.  But the pleasure of selection in retail therapy is a difficult addiction to break.

And then, once there, there was the issue of coolth.  I knew I was going to write this entry, with the title of "the pleasure of selection", and so then I have to be able to say that I bought books of sufficient worthiness for anyone to think I have sufficient gravitas to be worth reading when I comment about the pleasing things I have selected.  Which anxiety turns out to be a great winnower of the dreck.

[1] - as per tradition, my next new assignment was offered to me on the last day of my current assignment (yesterday).  I have a part-time receptionist stint coming up in a week for an unknown amount of time.  Keeps me internal; keeps me in rent.  Okay.

[2] - I am currently slogging through "The Importance of What We Care About" by Harry G. Frankfurt, which is making me re-realize that I don't care about philosophy.  I bought it on the recommendation of someone on afp for the essay "on Bullshit", which may or may not be good.  I haven't made it that far.  I have the same attitude to reading as to food: no throwing away things that are unpalatable - that's wasteful and waste is a sin.  Things must be eaten all up and things must be read from front to back.  Ugh.


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