Book Log

It's not so much a 'review-list' as a 'book-log', but hey, it gives me pleasure to write, and I hope gives you pleasure to read. Extremely specialized works (read: non-popular math) have been left off this list, in the interest of rating books which would be of interest to a nonprofessional audience.

Reviews indexed by author


Reviews indexed by title


Richard Adams, Watership Down

So we have a charming little story about rabbits with vaguely anthropomorphic tendencies, with the most misleading title in existence (it sounds like it should be about a shipwreck, doesn't it?). It's a modern classic, whimsical and realistic all at once -- while the rabbits are advanced beyond real-world rabbits in their thoughts and actions, their advancement does not strain credibility, and it's fun to read about a completely different sort of life than the sort humanity has. I've got a couple criticisms though: the use of unfamiliar terms for familiar things, especially those that rabbits know what are, seemed unnecessary, and kept me scratching my head occasionally as to the meanings. Also, the complete lack of conflict in the group struck me as artificial -- other than the early doubters on the heath and an offhand reference to fighting over females, the group seems unrealistically cohesive.

But all in all, I had a wonderful time with Watership Down, and I can see why people love it.

Rating: A

Note: half the places I wrote "rabbits" in this report, I originally wrote "robots". My brain is weird.

Isabel Allende, Daughter of Fortune

I tried to like this one, but I got a distinct sense of staticity -- characters don't really seem to develop much at all, or behave particularly naturally. Jacob Todd, who I found an amusing character as designed, shuffled offstage to return pointlessly in the mid-book; Joaquin, Eliza's love, is so incompletely sketched as to be nonexistent (and that it takes most of the book for Eliza to realize this doesn't speak much to her character development); The only even remotely interesting thing which occurs with the Sommers is the revelation of Eliza's parentage.

My favorite part of the narrative was Tao Chi'en's history, which was basically backstory. I'm not sure why I was unimpressed with the rest of the story, but I got the distinct impression, at the end, that nothing really happened. Nothing happened with great beauty and style, but still, it seems an awfully sparse story for so many pages.

Rating: B

Margaret Atwood, Bluebeard's Egg

I find it hard to write about a short story collection, because the quality of the work is often uneven, and doesn't weave into a unified whole. I found some of the stories in here good, some not so good, a very few completely incomprehensible. There's a certain staticity to the style I'm not too thrilled about -- ultimately, none of the people in these stories ever do anything. Some of them were very nice -- I rather liked the one about Hurricane Hazel; but for the most part, they were too much character sketches and not really stories.

Rating: B-

Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale

I'm sure there was a point about gender politics, but it just seemed like a ham-handed readaptation of a standard dystopia to try to make some sort of point about gender politics. The world is simply inadequately motivated, and a world without a plausible backstory just sort of loses me.

Rating: B

Philip Jose Farmer, To Your Scattered Bodies Go

It was a fun idea and an interesting plot, but, argh, the prose is simply terrible. I've fallen behind on my log, so I can't come up with more to say -- maybe I need to reread this one.

Carl Hiaasen, Basket Case

Carl Hiaasen's novels are their most compelling when they're about high-level corruption or eco-crusaders. The ones about petty criminals are far less engaging, because one knows, that in the end, the bad guys are far too dim and have far too little foresight to possibly get away with it. For instance, from about the fourth chapter of Lucky You, we know the White Clarion Aryans aren't going to actually pull off their scam. They're just too careless. Similarly, it becomes obvious pretty early on in Basket Case that Cleo and her goons are far too indiscreet and incautious to actually fool anyone. Nonetheless, there's a nice romp involved in the interplay at the news office, which is, unsurprisingly, a place where Hiaasen wonderfully captures local dynamics, and there are a lot of good laughs and wacky Floridian hijinks, but the actual plot runs kind of thin.

Rating: B+

Isabel Allende, Aphrodite

I admit to prejudice. This was filed under fiction at the library, and I was expecting, from the back-cover blurb, something somewhat like Like Water for Chocolate; to the extent that food and eroticism were the features I expected, I wasn't disappointed, but I expected a story, rather than a great deal of biographical information, recipes, and scientific/sociological musings. It's good for what it is; it made me hungry (and not particularly horny, but I'd like to think I've got that under control now). I didn't try the recipes, because I am poor and have a lame kitchen. But they sure sound good.

Rating: NR

Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth

I have a major beef with this, and maybe I was supposed to. Lily Bart is an idiot. She shows an inordinate penchant for fouling up every chance she has at achieving what's apparently important to her. Given opportunities to acquire status, love, and money, she spurns each in favor of the other and so gets nothing at all. Wharton writes about her wonderfully, but I find it hard to be sympathetic to her tragedy when at every stage in said tragedy she's offered ample chances at redemption.

Rating: A-

Carl Hiaasen, Paradise Screwed (nonfiction)

I think there are large parts of this you have to be Floridian to get, or at least know why such-and-such a suggestion is absurd. But there are several brilliant articles which don't need context: the saga of the $50,000 desk, the field trips to the zoo for all county employees, the tourists frolicking on the beaches upwind of drowned corpses. If you need to know where Hiaasen's ideas come from, look no further: Florida is stranger than fiction.

Rating: B

Carl Hiaasen, Dave Barry, Elmore Leonard, Edna Buchanan, James W. Hall, Les Standiford, Paul Levine, Brian Antoni, Tananarive Due, John Dufresne, Vicki Hendricks, Carolina Hospital, and Evelyn Mayerson, Naked Came the Manatee

Huh, it's like one of those writing exercises where each person writes a paragraph of a story then passes it on, except everyone involved is actually a real-live writer (only three of whom I've actually read, mind). As might be suspected, the writing is uneven, but the tone and style are pretty consistent (an admirable feat) up until the last chapter, which is subjected to some clumsy remotivation of at least one character and some loose ends being wrapped up hastily. It's not a compelling or even consistent story, but, hey, at least its mostly well-written.

Rating: C+

Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

I'm remembering now why I never read another Russian novel after Crime and Punishment except for A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch (which was mercifully short, and which I rather liked). We have infidelity and reconciliation and family and politics and class struggle and rejection and true love and agricultural theory and OH GOD THERE'S STILL SIX HUNDRED PAGES. Er, yeah. So I actually liked the style, but I could have used about a third as much of it. Levin was pretty cool. Anna seemed pretty stupid and undirected to me -- I'd feel the tragedy a lot more if she hadn't been so mercurial in her desires and actions; even her originally falling for Vronsky struck me as out-of-nowhere; my incomprehension of this turn in the plot probably derives from the same source as my incomprehension of women in general.

Rating: B-

Yann Martel, Life of Pi

Let's start with the title. When I first heard this was a bestseller, I thought it was a nonfiction work, one of those charming and often entertaining popular-mathematics books a la e: The Story of a Number; An Imaginary Tale; Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea; and any of a wide array of such works. Of course, it's not about math, and the whole Greek letter thing is explained away early on, but, as a math geek, it's my first impulse. I dunno about the parts of this society in general seems to have loved -- a lot of people see it as a celebration of the triumph of faith; I see it as an entertaining tale of human ingenuity. Pi's spirits are certainly not kept aloft forever -- he sinks quickly into despair, and while I find his faith comforting (the sort of faith I wish I had), I was far more taken with his ingenuity, his wonder at the occasional success of his plans, etc. In the end, this is a castaway story, not a story of faith. But it's a delight to read, and if you see it as a celebration of faith, I can see how you'd get that, too.

Rating: A-

Arthur Philips, Prague

I like any story set in Budapest. I eat and sleep and breathe and dream Hungarianness. The only thing I don't actually do is understand Hungarian, because it's a four-door bitch of a language to learn. That said, of course, this book, title notwithstanding, is set in Budapest, although Prague looms large in the picture; in fact, one of the central facets of the story is that pretty much everyone there doesn't actually want to be in Budapest, they'd rather be in Prague. This makes sense absent sentimentality, but for me it's completely the other way around. It's an interesting perspective to see people who have absolutely no respect for Hungarians. I've developed something of a mania that Hungarians are admirable troopers, survivors, gods of mathematics, and/or exotic aliens. In Prague, the Hungarians are portrayed as passive, whiny nonparticipants in the revival of central Europe -- which I suppose they are, but that's not the view of them I like. The only character in the book whose impressions of Budapest are at all in sympathy with mine is Mark. So, all in all, while it was nice to read about young intellectuals hanging about the Gerbeaud and going to jazz clubs, they weren't my sort of young intellectuals at all.

Rating: B+

William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying

Oh, man, was this one ever confusing. I had to read it twice, and by the end I had a good idea of who did what and why, although the barn-burning bit still confuses me. I liked the changes in narrative voices, although they seemed to blend together at some points, such as Vardaman's child-logic creeping into Darl's dry, factual description, which is actually a fairly good representation of what's happening to Darl. Stylistically it's brilliant, but the subject matter left me sort of cold, since it seems that all they do is drive, drive, drive, and then drive some more.

Rating: B

Elmore Leonard, Get Shorty

As a disclaimer, I saw he movie first, so everything I read in the book I assessed in terms of the movie. It's interestingly different for me to get to things in this order, and confirms that I'm, like the rest of humanity, more about rationalizing my preferences than actually being a purist. I found myself missing bits of the movie which weren't in the book, and the bits which were in the book but not the movie seemed to sort of drag. So, there we go, I'm a hypocrite. The writing was competent but stylistically pretty flat.

Rating: B-

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

I inserted this into my schedule to be a pretentious intellectual. Really, before the movie comes out, I have to read the book, just so I can complain loudly as I leave the theater about perceived rapes of the characterization and plot. It's one of those things we pretentious intellectuals do. But, anyways, I tried to read this once before, and got bored and hung up roundabout the battle of Pellenor Fields. I tried again, and it didn't seem to drag nearly as much, and there was a lot of interesting characterization going on, a lot of fairly static characters seem to develop a bit in this book. My one criticism is that things seemed to end kind of arbitrarily; Frodo and Sam trudge through the waste, and, whoa, suddenly they're on Mount Doom, and it's the end of the story. But, hey, it was a nice ending. More accurately several nice endings, I suppose, since the book, like Emily Dickinson's life, closes several times before its close. Liked the other two books more, but one of them has to be the weakest.

Rating: A-

Péter Nádas , A Book of Memories

I'd like to think I'm not a complete intellectual lightweight. I read a fair variety of literature, and enjoy most of it -- and even that which I don't enjoy, I tend to make the effort to finish. I'm a good and reasonably sophisticated reader, and I like Hungarian culture and literature. And for those reasons, I found myself surprised and shocked by the complete lack of interest i had in this book. It's dense, heavy, and I found myself having to work damned hard to even get 50 pages in. I can recognize it as the sort of book often regarded as classic, but I couldn't get into it at all.

Rating: NR

Nick Montfort, Twisty Little Passages

Man, what is there to say? Among other things, it's extremely refreshing to see a readable scholarly work on the subject of IF. The particular historical approach starting from riddles is unconventional, but it seems to work for me. My only real complaint is that it seems to try to do too much -- it wants narratology, history, and critical analysis, and it has a little of each, but not enough to feel really meaty. It seems like it would be more enjoyable if it focused more on a particular point -- but then it would not be nearly as useful a source for the uninitiated. All in all, it's an excellent survey of the state of the art.

Rating: A

Anthony Trollope, The Warden

I wanted to like this one -- I read Barchester Towers first, and enjoyed it greatly, but this one exhibits the main problem with satire -- it's apt to become dated and unfunny to a later audience. There were large enjoyable sections, but the parodies of Dickens, Carlyle, and contemporary bishops just fell flat.

Rating: B-

Espen Aarseth, Cybertext

This is one of those books I approached fairly warily -- I'd heard good things about it (it's a seminal work on the narrative theory of interactive media) and bad things about it (it's abstruse, gets hung up on details, and is a bit sloppy about certain other details). In my reading, the bad seemed to outweigh the good, but in fairness, it was probably written by a narratologist for other narratologists, and not mere mortals like me. He seemed to get extremely detailed about certain issues (focusing on the codebases of MUDs and on a semantic typology of text-types along certain variables), and then surprisingly overlook core issues to the media being discussed. I'm not a narratologist, and I can't properly assess how well Cybertext does what it set out to do, but in lieu of useful information, here's an Aarseth Buzzword Bingo board:

ergodic aporia extranoematic typology multicursal
scripton cybernetic bivium epistemology semantic
Barthesian signifier metalepsis semiology
paradigm intrigant spatiodynamic philology multisequential
semiosis hypermedia intertextuality symbiosis episodic

Gabriel García Márquez, The Autumn of the Patriarch

Weird, weird, weird. There's this section in a number of García Márquez novels where a character goes off into an extended rant about something or other which usually lasts about a page without any punctuation and with dialogue dropped in the middle. This book is like that, only instead of one or two pages, there are hundreds. It's a method which, in my opinion, is best taken in small doses. I can see how this would be considered an interesting experiment, and even enjoyable to some, but I found it mostly just hard to get through.

Rating: B-

Philip K. Dick, Valis

I rather enjoyed this one. It kept me riveted, and told a fairly strightforward, if strange, story, with just the right number of open ends to seem deliberate. The characterization is rich, although I found the sudden change in the characters of Fat's friends after viewing Valis a bit odd. In all, I enjoyed it enough that I think I'll read more Dick at some point.

Rating: A

Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon

Neal Stephenson's a good writer who could easily be a great writer. All he needs to do it complete about 4/5 of the book he means to write, and then turn it over to anybody at all to finish up. I do mean anybody. Ayn Rand. Stephen King. Dave Barry. Hell, a monkey with a typewriter could probably write a more satisfying conclusion than Stephenson could. But the first 600 or so pages of Cryptonomicon are great. Better even than Snow Crash, which I liked an awful lot. His grasp of the relevant science and history is perfect (which is good, I guess, since his next book's going to be more of the same), and his characters, both original and borrowed, are interesting, lively personalities. I eagerly await his next work, since he seems to have made a permanent move away from cyberpunk and other genre sci-fi into a realm not entirely unlike historical fiction. Actually, I'm only looking forward to two-thirds of his next work, since the third book is likely to be half crap.

Rating: A

William Gibson, Idoru

I put off reading this one for a while, since it's a sequel to the fairly lackluster Virtual Light. But, I finally ran out of other immediately compelling reading, so I finally gave this a try, and I'm glad I did. It's considerably superior, in my estimation, to its predecessor. Fortunately, William Gibson's "sequels" are actually more in the nature of shared-world stories. This, unlike Virtual Light, is a story where at the end you get the impression something's actually happened. The characters are a more interesting bunch too, with interesting talents and outlooks. Mostly, though, I think Gibson just does Tokyo better than California.

Rating: B+

Moacyr Scliar, The Centaur in the Garden

This one was awfully strange. I came out of it feeling like I'd read something, but the actual story was a slippery beast. Other work of Scliar's has been compared unfavorably (in the likelihood-of-lifted-ideas way) to Life of Pi, and this story also has an alarming overlap of ambiguous-story and weird nothing-really-happened overtones. I'm not sure whether I like that or not, but it's certainly an interesting little literary romp. With Jewish centaurs.

Rating: B+

Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

I confess, I nearly didn't bother. I read Wuthering Heights years ago and that was quite enough to turn me off to the whole dreary-Victorian-heathscape mode of writing. I read Wuthering Heights again recently and it still irritated me somewhat. But then I read Jane Eyre and I'm glad I did. The characters feel and behave real: their foolishness and evil are tempered by other actions and emotions which make them seem more human, and the plot, though implausible, reveals a deft symmetry of motivation between Jane and Rochester. I enjoyed this, in spite of the whole moors-and-melodrama thing which I thought I hated.

Rating: A+

Carl Hiaasen, Hoot

Letting Carl Hiaasen write a children's book is like letting Robert Rodriguez direct a children's film: you have a feeling it's a very bad idea, but surprisingly the end result is harmless fluff. The man who brought us psychopathic redneck militiamen, Republicans-only hookers, and all sorts of grisly modes of death from fishhooks to toy alligators has surprisingly written a nice friendly story with no death, no sex, little politics, and violence on an elementary-school level. Its origins in the wacky mind of Florida's best remain evident, and there's a nice subversive element (this book could have been easily subtitled "A Child's Guide to Ecoterrorism") which I approve heartily of.

Rating: B

Spider Robinson, Mindkiller

Spider Robinson is a guilty pleasure. He writes competently enough to be enjoyable, and he can craft a decent plot. This isn't the problem, and this isn't what makes me unable to think of him as a "good writer". No, the problem is characterization. All of his major characters (or at least the "good guys") are punsters who love obscure blues and jazz standards and Irish coffee and smoke weed occasionally. While I approve of all of these attributes except puns, I have a sneaky suspicion that it is in fact Spider Robinson who does all those things. Putting self-analogues in stories is all well and good, but it'd be nice to moderate it a bit. But, anyways, Mindkiller. It's OK for what it is, but I felt myself kinda let down at the end. The Big Reveal at the middle was pretty well done, but, y'know, around the time the police officer crashed the party I was sort of losing interest and the pacing just kind of died there. So a valiant effort, but not his best, and I'm afraid that's none too good.

Rating: C+

Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Firebrand

Hmm. This was a good solid enjoyable story, although my brain needed to filter about about 40% of the sexual politics to retain its integrity (yes, I know the sexual politics were the point. That doesn't mean they can't still be a bit much). The style was interesting, the characterizations surprisingly good while remaining true to what little's told in outside sources, and the research, even though the story is ultimately revisionist, was impeccable. Can't really complain.

Rating: A-

Herman Hesse, Siddharta

It's a strange little story. I came out of it feeling like I had missed something important, unless it's about the futility of human endeavor, in which case I didn't miss anything, I guess. The characters seemed far too stylized for me to really get into them, although the broad strokes with which they were drawn were nonetheless artistic. I'm fence-sitting a bit with respect to Hesse's style: it shows clear talent, but I'm not sure it's a stylistic talent that resonates with me. But I'd read another of his books.

Rating: B+

Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights

This was not actually my first time reading this book. Wuthering Heights was required reading in AP English Literature my senior year of high school. And I hated every moment of it. But now I'm 6 years older, and I've just read Jane Eyre and loved it, so why not go for it? Alas, all the things I disliked then persist. The characters behave completely irrationally. They all have identical names. Not a single damn character is sympathetic, and the ending is not-sad in spite of everyone's best efforts to make life miserable. Feh.

Rating: C+

Ernest Hemmingway, A Farewell to Arms

Another experiment. We read The Old Man and the Sea in, er, junior high, I think, and I found it dreadfully boring; then again, in junior high school everything except girls and Mathcounts seemed boring, and I wasn't too sure about girls even. But I'd heard great things about Hemmingway's style, so I swallowed my pride and read a story of his which didn't involve old men or fish, and did involve war and European women. I still found myself underwhelmed by his minimalistic prose and thin semblance of a plot. Nothing seemed to hang together; lots of unrelated things happened. Points for realism, but that does not a good story make.

Rating: C

Neil Stephenson, Zodiac

Ah, back to good old-fashioned fun. Like most Stephenson books, Zodiac fizzles out rather than actually ending. But before it gets there, it takes you on a nice, wild ride. I enjoyed the plot, and as always, Stephenson has a knack for drawing colorful and interesting characters. The only downside of this story is that, no longer being in Boston, I can't go to the mythically good (and probably just plain mythical) Vietnamese restaurant Sangamon frequents, and if I do go back to Boston, I may never eat lobster again.

Rating: A

Jack Chalker, The Four Lords of the Diamond

Jack Chalker comes in ahead of Spider Robinson in the "guilty pleasures" list. He's got his schtick --- body-swapping --- and he's OK with it.The Four Lords of the Diamond is not actually a single work, but a series of four novels. This might have worked better if I'd stopped to breathe between them, read something else in the interim. Most of the stories work well on their own, although Cerberus left me completely confused after the first time I read it. Medusa was a big letdown; the actual nature and motives of the aliens turned out to be disappointing. But Lilith and Charon were relatively unconditional fun if viewed as an alien-world romp rather than an actual part of this alien-seeking saga. However, it still didn't seem nearly as engrossing or interesting as many of Chalker's other works.

Rating: B-

Steven Brust, Jhereg

A bit of history here: I actually read the prequels to this a year or so ago. I remembered them being full of schemers being elaborately polite to each other. This book is more of the same (and apparently unrelated, except via a couple of references to characters who don't appear in this story). It's a story of people being elaborately polite to everyone while they try to kill each other. This drops you in at the deep end into a world of weird wildlife, weird skills, and extremely complicated social structure and makes no real attempt to let the reader know about any of this. Nonetheless, it was enjoyable if fluff. Everyone in these stories is far too pat, far too clever, and a caricature of whatever characteristics they're meant to embody. OK for what it is.

Rating: B-

Stephen R. Donaldson, Lord Foul's Bane

About halfway through this I found it a tough slog. Everybody sings a lot; this has more poetry than even Tolkien does, and the story runs awfully thin in places to support it. I was excessively frustrated by the fact that an important plot point near the beginning dropped completely out of the story, but it was nice to see that it resurfaced and was actually important. The story started to suck less after that, in my mind, because characterizations and motivations started to seem that much more engaging.

Rating: B

David Brin, Kiln People

David Brin is one of those people I was warned about. The warning came from my ex, who turned out to be wrong about most everything else. Anyways, Kiln People is a nice thrill-ride for about two-thirds of its length and then devolves (this is a far too common problem in sci-fi) into all sorts of mystical yammering about souls and space and lasers and whatnot. If the super-secret project had been something drearily mundane, this would have been a far more enjoyable work. Also, I'm not sure what's up with the consistent misspelling of words like "single" and "movie". It's not whimsical, it's not particularly revealing of the world or the people in it. It's just odd.

Rating: C+

Philip K. Dick, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

There was more than a shade of The Trial about this one. The rules of protagonist's universe change for reasons unknown to him and us, plunging him into a bureaucratic nightmare, and his evasions of the law are abetted by women desiring his body. However, it's distinctly of a different time than The Trial, and explores different themes: reality, rather than the law, is the quantity subtly out of tune. And at the end it makes sense, in a wacky sort of way. This was a nice little head-trip.

Rating: A

Gabriel García Márquez, Living to Tell the Tale

It seems awfully hubristic, it must be said straight off, for an author to release his memoirs, and label them the first book of a trilogy. That being said, this one is, to say the least, peculiar. The Colombia of this story seems to freakishly resemble a García Márquez novel, and one has to wonder, as he looks backwards through the lens of years and experience, whether he based his books on the stories of his youth or adjusted his memories of his youth to fit his narrative. Either way, it's a strange mishmash of a number of sketches from prior stories and political history. Not too clear what to make of it.

Rating: B

Anthony Trollope, The Eustace Diamonds

I like Trollope a lot, and far be it from me to bitch about the weightiness of his books. That said, the Eustace diamonds tends to drag a bit in places. Pretty much everything about foxhunting and a good deal of the events after the second robbery can be cut a bit. But I loved the story and the plot, although I spent most of my investment in the story thinking about the Frank Greystock/Lucy Morris subplot rather than Lizzie, for whom I had no sympathy (and surely wasn't meant to). This meant that from my point of view the story ends considerably before the close of the book, for once Frank is out of her clutches, I care little for the fate of Lizzie Eustace. This is all niggling criticism though. It was a fun read. Just a very long one.

Rating: A-

Jane Smiley, A Thousand Acres

I found this one amusing. I knew the schtick before I started reading it, much like everyone else who read it, which meant that I already had a story framework I was trying to fit pieces into. So it was something of a cruel (in the sense of "really interesting") trick to make Rose and Ginny sympathetic characters and largely justified in their behavior. I was surprised by how human most of the characters were, and how it manages to fit well into the framework of a story where everyone is either irrational or evil incarnate.

Rating: A

Anthony Trollope, Phineas Redux

As the name implies, this is a sequel. Unlike many Trollope sequels, it actually depends on the events of the previous book, which is somewhat unfortunate, since it assumes knowledge of much of what has gone before and spoils it all (see notes on Phineas Finn). Fortunately, plots are not Trollope's primary point; characterizations are. And again, this one relies a fair bit on what has gone before in sketching the characters, so a lot of the flaws I perceived are probably my own damn fault. However one objection -- on a plot point, after I dismissed the plot -- is he lack of focus in this book. There's a lot going on which has absolutely nothing to do with Finn himself. The quarrel between Lord Chiltern and the keeper of Trumpeton Wood can be excused on the grounds that Trollope needs an outlet for his venereal wankery, but the Gerard Maule/Adelaide Palliser subplot, while delightful in its way, is really unnecessary. It's a fun read, and I moved through it quickly, but the plot seems awfully diffuse (even for Trollope).

Rating: B+

Philip K. Dick, The Divine Invasion

I picked this one up because the blurb on the back suggested it was a sequel to Valis, which I saw as a good self-contained story, so I was interested in seeing where else it could go from there. The answer is: it doesn't. This is not a sequel except in the loosest sense of the word, and shares no real characteristics with Valis. Actually, in terms of central concepts, it shares far more with Flow My Tears..., with the idea that reality is self-generated by sufficient forces of will. I got a bit lost as to the Fox's role in the story: she seems to take the part of both adversary and ally to the forces of Yah, but I loved the characterization of the main characters: even though they're creatures of superlative wisdom and power (with the exception of Herb and Rybys), they behave in a manner consistent with the forms in which they're incarnated; as for instance in Zina and Emmanuel's near-fatal mistake. I suppose I'll have to read the third book in the "trilogy" too, now.

Rating: A+

Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Wow. I'm surprised I waited so long to read this. This is one of the most amazingly twisted things I've ever seen framed as nonfiction. It has an even tone of maniacal, feverish incomprehension throughout, punctuated with occasional social insights I had a lot of fun with this.

Rating: A

Umberto Eco, Baudolino

Umberto Eco is an impressive human being. Perhaps too impressive, since his works positively bludgeon you with erudition. Baudolino is no exception to this trend, exhibiting a distressingly high familiarity with the state of Europe at the time of Fredrick Barbarossa and the sundry heresies practiced therein. It's an extraordinarily educational work -- I'd never even heard of the Nestorian heresy, but apparently it's a big one -- but still has an awful lot of fun with its ideas. There's a lot here in terms of cool things to include in a story, but I'm not sure they really coalesce into a whole, as such.

Anthony Trollope, The Prime Minister

The back cover copy of this one worried me somewhat, as did the title. See, I found a great deal of the politics in the Phineas novels inscrutable, and a novel about the formation of a new ministry promised to be more of the same. Fortunately for my interest level, The Prime Minister deals primarily with human rather than political situations. The interactions of the Pallisers with each other are great, and Lady Glencora is definitely at her best in this book, blithely exerting her influence to the Duke's continual dismay, and the other (one can hardly call it secondary) plot of the Lopezes' various changes of fortune is relevant to the story and well-incorporated.

Kim Stanley Robinson, The Wild Shore

I read this one because I was intrigued by Adam Cadre's discussion of it. I have little to add to his excellent thematic analysis, and the writing is competent but not spectacular, so it's kind of hard to come up with much of anything to say that hasn't already been said.

Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited: The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder

This one bewildered me by its shift in emphasis halfway through. And the fact that I couldn't figure out who was gay, since all of the male characters in the story are a little, if I may be so bold as to say so, affected. This all makes the Sebastian-Charles dynamic a bit unreadable, and when Charles's affections shift later in the story, one can't help but read a homoerotic subtext in his relationship with Julia. Gay-theorists could (and almost certainly have) get a couple thousand publications out of this. As for the religious aspects, I'm eerily reminded of Graham Greene (which is not wholly surprising, since Greene and Waugh had similar experiences with Catholicism).

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