Mike’s Prattle

Miscellaneous

Books/CDs Received; Cruzan Single Barrel Estate Rum; Jack McDevitt – The Engines of God; Vladimir Nabokov – Pale Fire; Jeff VanderMeer – Why Should I Cut Your Throat?

Posted by Mike on October 16, 2006

Books: 

  • Paul Auster – Mr. Vertigo
  • Dino Buzzati – The Tartar Steppe
  • Kim Stanley Robinson – The Martians
  • Harlan Ellison and other Wild Talents – Partners in Wonder
  • F. Paul Wilson – The Tomb
  • Robert J. Sawyer – Hybrids
  • Gene Wolfe – The Wizard (The Wizard Knight Book Two)
  • Ian Banks – The Business
  • Samuel R. Delany – Neveryona
  • Fredrich Nietzsche – Beyond Good & Evil
  • Harlan Ellison/Isaac Asimov – I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay
  • Robert J. Sawyer – Iterations
  • Katherine Neville – The Eight
  • Robert A. Heinlein – Expanded Universe
  • Orson Scott Card – Ender’s Shadow
  • Nicola Griffith – Stay
  • Toni Morrison – Song of Solomon
  • Larry Niven – N-Space
  • Robert A. Heinlein – Job: A Comedy of Justice
  • Gene Wolfe – Castleview
  • Mark Helprin – Winter’s Tale
  • Harlan Ellison ed. – Dangerous Visions (hb)
  • James Branch Cabell – Something About Eve (hb)
  • Bruce Campbell – If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor (hb)

CDs:

  • Andrew Hill – Mosaic Select
  • Grant Green – Live at Club Mozambique
  • Jack McDuff – The Honeydripper

Managed to finish my bottle of the Cruzan rum without commenting on it. When I first bought the bottle, I got this almost suntan lotion sort of feel to it, that kind of coconut oil-ish smell, although this comes out on the palate with the rum, at times it almost feels designer. Later in the bottle, I wasn’t quite as comfortable with it, or at least it didn’t stand up as well to others that I’ve tried, while being quite respectable.

Anyway, haven’t really blogged in a while, I spent much of the last week with back trouble which sat me in front of my TV most of the time until I was starting to see what I was watching in my dreams. But I did manage to finish some books (and buy lots more at library sales a week or so ago).

I read one Jack McDevitt novel several years ago, and I believe it was called Ancient Shores, it was similar in tone to Sagan’s Contact with different mechanics. It had one of the worst endings I’ve ever read, a really oversentimental conclusion that left me feeling it was a useless exercise. I decided to check McDevitt out again, mostly because his novel Omega won an award, so I figured I’d give the first in the series, Engines of God, a shot and I’m glad I did. McDevitt isn’t the most impressive prose stylist in the world, but he’s pretty good at character development and, of course, cool science fictional ideas. The book also reminded me of Gregory Benford’s 6 book Galactic Center series, or at least the first two books, with humans starting to become aware of a malevolent universe and their potential fate in it. Fortunately, Engines’ plot is much more grounded than Ancient Shores, even wrapping up the plot tightly. I have no idea if McDevitt originally planned sequels to the novel, but it doesn’t feel open-ended. Overall, even more than Benford, the novel has a strong Arthur C. Clarke feel, particularly Rendezvous with Rama, although with a much more archaeological bent. It was more or less a fast read, and I’m now looking forward to checking out the next one in the series, Deepsix. In fact it took a bit of mental vigor to not start it immediately and try finishing my ever-growing pile.

Pale Fire. I’m not sure I’m the one to speak cogently over a novel that is as highly regarded as this one, but it is indeed as brilliant as I’ve heard, a novel that probably needs to be read a few times to absorb what is going on. It purports to be the final poem of a famous poet (Shade) and a commentary on that poem by one of the poet’s cohorts (Kinbote). However it’s not long into the commentary that one becomes aware that not all is what it seems, and that Kinbote has his own agenda in mind. It’s established fairly quickly, Kinbote is hardly a reliable narrator and through his own language you start to really wonder what his role is. Anyway, I’ve said enough, but the commentary twists and turns, often having little to do with the poem, part of what makes one start to distrust what you’re reading. The writing is so inspired there are a number of excellent sections that could be quoted. The book is definitely a keeper.

In fact I found out about Pale Fire through lists of fantastical recommendations spearheaded by Jeff VanderMeer on his blog and his Night Shade discussion board (Pale Fire isn’t what I’d call a genre work by any means, but it does have fantastical elements). Why Should I Cut Your Throat? is a somewhat haphazard collection of criticism and other non fiction that is often entertaining, although having written music reviews for years, I found myself a bit irritated with the snarkiness of the convention reviews. I’ll give VanderMeer the benefit of the doubt that most, if not all, of these were older articles, but I’m getting a little weary of reading reviews by convention or festival attendees that give the impression that the writer and the group of people they went with are somehow more cool, stylish, prettier or more socially adept than other attendees. I’m particularly reminded of VanderMeer’s convention review where his group meets Robert Silverberg – I get the impression from the reading that Silverberg was kind of creepy, when it seemed as possible that he was trying to be friendly or sociable.

Anyway, VanderMeer’s critcism is far more useful than what are admittedly, somewhat causal convention reviews, although it seems to me that there are some shoulder chips, for example the scathing review of Martin Scott’s Thraxas. I’d agree that it didn’t deserve the World Fantasy Award, but I wonder if VanderMeer would have given it a shot had it not. It struck me as something of a harmless, but fun romp.

On the other hand, VanderMeer’s lists turned me on to both Edward Whittemore and Angela Carter, and there’s some wonderful, incisive criticism of both writers in the book. Reading both of those books (and Pale Fire) have gone to inform me that I had been missing some of the greatest literature of last century. Bringing awareness to these great scribes would be worthy of anyone’s life’s work, it’s only to our benefit that VanderMeers seems well on his way to reaching those standards in his own (fictional) work. In fact even though I’ve mentioned what I didn’t like, I’m mostly quoting exceptions, there are a number of reviews (Like Look to Windward or Observatory Mansions) I found quite enlightening. And VanderMeer, like Lucius Shepard in an earlier post, is quite talented at explaining why something didn’t work or how it might have, which is the sort of rare, informed criticism you don’t see enough of.

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