Friday, December 17, 2010

Books: October to November

During this time period I started to realise that not every book was worth blogging about; so, rather than a comprehensive list, these book posts are moving more towards some edited highlights.

Kashmir is a screenplay about three specialists hunting down Osama bin Laden. An enjoyable, fast read. Probably still available at scriptshadow, if you want to google for it.

After watching Surrogates, the Bruce Willis movie about people who stay at home and live their lives through remote drones that look like them, I felt like I needed more exploration of that idea. Kil'n People by David Brin is a noir version of the story (rather than an action-adventure), and it contains both a twisty mystery, great uses of the first person narrator, and a lot of excellent ideas about what would happen if you could clone yourself, live 5 different lives, and then reabsorb the memories of those clones. I was a little disapointed with the mysticism that ended the book, but (overall) a good read.

The Ask and the Answer is the sequel to The Knife of Never Letting Go. As I mentioned last time, I was resisting reading this, but Jenni told me that the book shifted from a single narrator to alternating between two points of view. That (plus the third POV she hinted would be introduced in the third book) was enough to get me reading it again. The Ask and Answer was great at getting me to like the characters again, but in terms of plotting it became a little bit plodding and event-based (this happened then this happened) without any real sense of meaning behind the events. I stopped reading it twice because I almost lost sympathy with the main male character; the author deliberately pushes the line here. However, the story built to an excellent finale.

The sequel, Monsters of Men, is just excellent. Definitely the best of the series; flipping between three different points of view means that the plot is advanced without the annoying 'knock the protagonist out' tricks of the first book. There are cliffhangers with nearly every chapter, and I'm a sucker for battle scenes of mass combat - the ambushes and strategies - which this book definitely delivers.

Overall, this Chaos Walking series has a great payoff but it was definitely a struggle for me to get there.

Exegisis is a short little science fiction tale about an artificial intelligence sending emails to its creator. An ok, fast read with one or two moments of genuine insight about how the world might 'look' to an AI.

How to Make it All Work is about looking at your life from a high-level perspective, setting goals and how to recognise when you're heading in the 'right' direction for you. I'm still figuring out how to apply stuff from this book; I think it'll be up for a re-read in a few months.
 
The Race is the second book by Richard North Patterson I've read this year. He's got a thing for writing well-researched thrillers which I approve of. This one is about a Republican presidential primary: overall, the story felt a little familiar to me, having watched Seasons 6 and 7 of The West Wing and followed the last few US elections and mid-terms fairly closely, but it's got a great final act (set at the Republican convention, illustrating the wheelings and dealings that go on). It's also interesting in that the book addresses the internal contradictions and unstable alliances between the different social groups that make up the Republican party (or at least did, pre-Tea Party).

While the first two books of Jessica Amanda Salmondson's Tomoe Gozen trilogy are fun, they didn't really move me. Her stories about a doomed female samurai have quite a bit to say about honour and feminism, but they felt a little disposable. The third book, Thousand Shrine Warrior, is infused with a melancholy mood and Tomoe becomes part of a fascinating moral dilemma: each person that Tomoe is forced to kill in order to save her life is actually part of a grander plan of revenge. That sense of doom and the awareness that violence only made the problem worse lifted this book into Yojimbo style territory. While the ending felt too easy, to me, I would love to read more Tomoe adventures (and I'd definitely want to see a film of this particular story).
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