What We Have Read 6

From our reading journal:

Stop Forgetting to Remember: The Autobiography of Walter Kurtz
Peter Kuper

Writing a fictionalized biography in graphic novel form, the artist relates several intimate embarrassing stories tha might not be expected in a biography, including awkward first experiments in sex, trying drugs, losing a long-time friend through neglect. Other chapters tell of becoming a father, searching for a publisher, and random good moments. Deep, witty, memorable.

Connie Willis

Theodora Baumgarten has just been accepted as cadet for the Space Academy. Just two problems: she never applied, and she can’t get anyone to listen to her. This youth fiction novella is similar to the Willis standard “screwball comedy” plot, as inspired by 50’s films, but is rather short, repetitive, with less room for character development. Meh.

The illustrations by J. K. Potter captured the essence of the main character to perfection.

The Name of the Wind
Patrick Rothfuss

Kvothe, a living legend hero now living incognito as inkeeper, begins to tell this life story to a Chronicler. While growing up in a traveling troupe he befriends the arcanist Abenthy who recognizes his talents of concentration and begins his education in sympathetic magic. After an encounter with the mysterious malevolent Chandrian he spends a few hard destitute years of youth in the city Tabean, and gets admission to University, secretly determined to learn more of the Chandrian. A gifted student, rapidly learning basics of science and magic, he soon acquires a determined scheming enemy in Ambrose, treads a complicated relationship with the ever-disappearing Denna, and struggles to earn a few pennies for tuition and board by performing lute. Kvothe has two experiences in the role of hero, and likes the role.

Jaw-droppingly good 700-page debut, full of magical moments. Read this book, and be prepared to wait ever so impatiently for the next installment.

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew
Daniel Pool

19th century England is explained for readers of British novels, including details of currency, rank, address, servants, and so on. Written in a thoroughly accessible and engaging manner, and often cites instances from famous novels on the subject at hand. The reader may skip around the book at will. This book will make that next foray into Austen, Dickens, or Trollope that much more satisfying.

A few tiny nits in an otherwise commendable book: The maps of London and counties of England as execrable– whether fault of the author or publisher, should be remedied in a later edition. It would be helpful to understand the total number of peers and titled gentry, with a breakdown: how many earls, dukes, etc to get some perspective. Many paragraphs are spent on the various types of carriages, without a single illustration to demonstrate the differences.

Spook Country
William Gibson

Hollis Henry journalist for Node working for buzz-hunter Bigend assigned to a story on locative virtual spaces. Bobby Crombo is a hacker who enables the technology layer of these art pieces, but in the past has done rather different work. Tito is part of a secretive extended family of Russian-speaking Cubans and lives in Manhattan, ninja with a loa. Milgrim is a junkie with a peculiar skillset: able to translate Russian leet-speak. hostage of Brown, bent ex-fed. A mysterious cargo is continuously transferred between container ships, almost never reaching port. In Gibson fashion, these disparate characters circle and spin and finally weave together in a finish with satisfying twist.

The Execution Channel
Ken Macleod

James Travis, hacker, survivalist, and high-power government IT contractor, loves his country Great Britain enough to be a spy for France. Observing how the UK was becoming a surveillance state, he has taught spy tradecraft to daughter Roisin from an early age. While demonstrating at a peace camp at an RAF base in Scotland, she observes a secret weapon just before the base is destroyed in a nuclear attack. Rosin, and by implication Travis, are hunted by authorities intent on rendition and torture, and must use all their wiles to escape a corrupt government and find justice.

In parallel, Dark Mark is a blogger, trying to report the truth in spite of disinformation ops by Western governments, personified by Bob Cartwright and Sarah Henk.. We are treated to plausible details on his research techniques– appreciated by this very minor blogger.

The technology introduced at the end seems contrived, but otherwise this is a chilling and passionate tale of the near future with commendable pacing.

Voice of the Whirlwind
Walter Jon Williams

Steward wakes as a clone, a beta, but with memories fifteen years out of date, as the alpha had reason not to update. His memories omit his wife having a child and divorce, most of his unit abandoned and destroyed in a bloody war on Sheol, the aliens have returned, and the alpha murdered. Steward still has skills of a zen warrior, decides to find his own answers, and is intent on not being used by powerful policorps.

Odd, vigilante is accepted by this reader in SF but not in present-day setting. See the following entry:

Bad Luck and Trouble
Lee Child

Someone is murdering members of Jack Reacher’s old unit, and Jack re-unites with surviving members to solve a mystery and deal vigilante justice.

Vigilante justice– that’s the problem, so I won’t try any more of this series.

Shannon Hale

Jane Hayes has an obsession with Darcy– nay, with Colin Firth as Darcy, which interferes in her quest for love. Now forty-ish, she is given a 3-week stay at a posh resort recreating authentic Regency England for Austen fans. Jane will use the experience to finally exorcise Darcy from her soul so she can get on with her life.

The heroine adapts to her role, Jane Erstwhile, struggles with the rather boring life available to Regency unattached females, meets a small number of other women guests and male actors playing prototypical Austen characters. She is drawn to Mr Nobly, haughty and aloof, but he is an actor, after all, so she sneaks off at night to snog one of the help in secret. Ultimately Jane discovers matters thought real are not real, and vice versa, and that’s all we can say.

Each chapter begins with a vignette describing one of Jane’s past boyfriends. These are often hilarious, containing some of the book’s best writing.

This book might not please all Austen fans, with its curious mix of new and old, less emphasis on character study and more on the inner life of the protagonist. But I liked it, so there.

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