Monday, March 18, 2013

For a Change, Let's Talk About Actual Books (Part 7)

Okay, there's no way to say this without sounding really stupid, but here goes...

You might have noticed that the last two posts went up on Thursday and Saturday, rather than Wednesday and Friday like normal.  It's not that I was way behind or experimenting with some new schedule or anything like that; I just lost track of what day it was.  See, I stayed home from work with a bug half of last week, and somehow my mind just added an extra day in there or something.  Never mind that I've got a calendar sitting in plain view in my room... or that the date is clearly posted on probably half the internet sites I frequent, including my own... which I updated twice during that stretch, on the wrong day... look, the point is, sometimes I'm not very clever.

One benefit to being sick, though, is that I've had plenty of reading time.  Click below the break to see what books I've been catching up on lately.

Alas, Babylon, by Pat Frank

What it is:  Written in 1959, this is a story about the months following a thermonuclear war for the residents of a small Florida town.

How I'm liking it so far:  It's an interesting book, to be sure, but it lacks some of the viceral impact that I associate with the best Cold War-era fiction (Failsafe comes to mind at once).  Part of that's the choice of setting: while the residents of Fort Repose certainly have their lives turned upside-down, they're pretty well insulated from the most dramatic effects of the nuclear attacks.  In its own way, that makes this an interesting story, one about how life continues even in the wake of worldwide catastrophe, but it also feels like a missed opportunity.  Plus, the writing's rather dry, which exacerbates that sense that a chance to make a statement was passed over in favor of something more pedestrian.

Recommendation:  It's certainly not a bad story, and I plan to finish it, but this will probably appeal mostly to readers who appreciate having a snapshot into the mindset of the era.  Those with a more generalized interest in post-apocalyptic fiction may be underwhelmed.

Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing, by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

What it is:  A book about the social and biological influences which help determine whether we win or lose when we compete--and whether we chose to compete at all.

How I'm liking it:  A bit less than halfway through, this has been a very enjoyable read.  My only complaint is that the main text isn't annotated (though all the many sources are listed by chapter in the back), which made checking out a couple of the studies mentioned more of a chore than it really should have been, but the text itself is engagingly written and deals with a fascinating subject.

Recommendation:  Anyone who enjoys this genre (social science) will definitely want to give this a look.  It's by no means inaccessible, and puts forth some interesting, counterintuitive theories.

The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien

What it is:  A posthumous collection of Tolkien's writings on Middle-Earth, mostly centered around the First Age (LotR takes place at the end of the Third Age, for reference), and the titular Silmarils, the most precious wrought works ever to exist upon the earth.

How I'm liking it:  I've read it many times before, in case you couldn't guess that from the way I sometimes blather on about Middle-Earth.  I'm one of the relatively few people out there who likes it more than the actual LotR series; sure, The Silmarillion can be slow at times, and the biblical prose isn't for everyone, but there are simply too many wonderful, powerful scenes to count in this book.  Perhaps my favorite comes from the Tale of Beren and Luthien, when Beren returns to Thingol bearing a Silmaril "in his hand:" a brilliant, joyous reminder that nobility is far more than a product of birth.

Recommendation:  I'm sure at least a couple of commenters will take it upon themselves to explain why they couldn't get into The Silmarillion and/or hate it with a fiery passion, so I'll just say that I think it's one of the most powerful examples of myth-based storytelling ever compiled, no less so for being an independently created mythology (rather than an organic one) and that anyone looking for such should absolutely start their journey here.

Honor: A History, by James Bowman

Just kidding!

Darkfever, by Karen Marie Moning

What it is:  That depends on who you ask, apparently.  A friend recommended it to me as "a really engrossing fantasy series" that "has lots of really dark, creepy faerie stuff."  When I mentioned that I had gotten this, the first book in the series, to my mother, she asked, "isn't that mommy-porn?"

How I'm liking it so far:  Well, I'm only a few chapters in, but so far I haven't found any porn, mommy- or otherwise.  However, the prologue has me worried ("Unprotected Fae-sex awakens a frenzy of sexual hunger inside a woman for something she should never have had to begin with, and will never be able to forget."), in light of that warning.  The protagonist hasn't really grabbed me yet--she comes of, at least early on, as kind of a pretentious narrator--but there's still time for that to change.  Such worldbuilding as there is to this point, though, has been pretty good.

Recommendation:  I haven't gotten far enough to offer much of a recommendation on this one, I'm afraid.  If anyone's more familiar with this book than I am, maybe they can reassure or warn me of what's to come, as necessary.


  1. I remember loving the Silmarillion the first time I read it — more than the LoTR trilogy actually — and rereading it has been, so far, very rewarding.

    Finding out just how much hate it gets was shocking.

  2. A roommate - who I converted to the Herd - had a copy of The Silmarillion and tried to get me to read it. Pretty sure it was in German, though. Wasn't that one of the texts used to expand the recent film adaptation of The Hobbit? How'd they do implementing it?

    Oh, and shouldn't that be "she comes off", rather than "she comes of", or is that another one of your artistic choices? :}