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Some recently read books

Posted by phduffy on 2009-01-04 21:14:25
 

Non-Fiction:

Going Postal - Mark Ames
This is one crazy book. The thesis of this book is basically that the economic policies of Ronald Reagan are the reason that workplace and schoolyard shooters exist. Ames makes no doubt about this thesis and hatred of Reagan, and there were a few times when I wanted to throw this book across the room. However, the more I read, the more I thought that Ames might have some good points. I hesitated to write that, as some of what Ames implies is nuts (he is unquestionably more sympathetic to school yard shooters than to their victims), but he also has some interesting points. His second chapter is an examination of slavery, and he has quotes of slaveholders which he compares to quotes from Jack Welch, and they're almost identical, although Welch is probably a tad harsher when discussing his employees than slave holders are. The point of the slavery history chapter is to point out that there were very few rebellions during American slavery, even though looking back, we'd consider revolting against your owners a completely natural and just event. However, it rarely happened, and when it did, it wasn't attributed to slaves versus their masters, it was 'evil' or some other nonsense. The point here being that after each school/work shooting, people rush to label the shooter as nuts/racist, etc, while in many cases, further analysis reveals that they're mostly fairly normal. In fact, they're almost impossible to profile. Ames argues that this is because they're just ordinary people pushed to revolt against their corporate masters.
As crazy as I found some of this book, I also found it very interesting, and it asks questions that are worth exploring. Calling these shooters 'evil', etc, helps no one, as it does nothing to help prevent the next occurance, and asking the question of 'why' is not saying that the shooters are justified, just acknowledging that there is a reason for what happend, which I think is important. The problem is that I'm not sure what action Ames thinks we should take. Is he telling me that I should take up arms against my bosses as part of a revolution? SHould I try to become a manager and not be a dick about it? Work on redistrubution of weath?
To give you an idea of some of the tone and bias of this book, I'm closing the post-script, where Ames discusses the death of Ronald Reagan:
WHy did we let Ronald Reagan die calmly in his sleep, at age niney-three, almost a quarter century after he destroyed everything decent in America? This book is an attempt to dig up Reagan's remains, hang them upside down from the nearest palm tree, and subject him, at last, to a proper trial.

Okay then

Julie Phillips - James Tiptree Jr. - The double life of Alice B Sheldon
The story of Alice Sheldon, a CIA agent, socialite, explorer and more who wrote science fiction under the name James Tiptree Jr, and who led her readers to think that she was male. This was well done, and gets into some of the reasons that Sheldon acted the way she did, but it also made me realize that ultimately I find biographies pretty boring.

Non-Genre

Joe R Lansdale - Leather Maiden
This was pretty typical Lansdale. And I like Lansdale, so there's nothing wrong with that. Set in Texas, there's a mystery, people are creepier/worse than they appear. Solid novel, but probably more of a pickup once it comes out in paperback, not hardcover.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez - General in his Labyrinth
Fictionlized version of the last days of famous general Simon Bolivar. Bolivar's a pretty fascinating figure, but ultimately this fell pretty flat. I don't know if I was supposed to appreciate the journey and not the destination, but Bolivar's thoughts on his fading life and fame didn't really do much for me.

Winter's Bone - Daniel Woodrell
Woodrell was suggested to me by someone who mentioned that he's a more literary Lansdale. And I suppose that's true, but his characters in this novel, who are basically a bunch of meth addicts in the Ozarks, didn't resonate with me as much as most Lansdale characters, nor did the plot. And I probably shouldn't compare directly to Lansdale, but what am I going to do? I'd consider trying something else by Woodrell, but didn't love this.

Genre:
John Scalzi - The Last Colony
3rd in a sequence of novels set in a future where humanity's at war with 100s of other alien species, all of them fighting for the few livable planets. A new planet is found, humanity attempts to colonize it without anyone knowing, there's some treachery, etc. All Scalzi's books are very solid, fun, quick reads. Scalzi did set a large portion of the novel off screen so that he could write another novel in this sequence to tell that story, and I don't love that idea, but it didn't detract from the book.

Jeff Somers - Digital Plague
Sequel to The Electric Church, set in a post-war future where society is divided between the haves and the have-nots. Although I enjoyed THe Electric Church, Somers really doesn't bother with character development, and only has minimal plot. His books are all action, all the time. There's no point in caring about of the the characters, as ultimately they all either betray the main character, or die. I can't care at the 3rd betrayal or 4th death. I actually thought that this read like an outline of a video game, and at one point Somers even references that his main character, Avery Cates, is "on rails".

Jay Lake - Mainspring
Set in an alternate earth full of airships, and a world in which God is a literal clock maker, and everyone can see the world turning along its axis, which is part of God's clock. Starts with a young orphan who gets a message from an angel that only he can save the world, so he's kicked out of home and he begins to search the world for the mainspring, which he can use to wind the world, as the world is slightly off its axis. This was an interesting world but a strange book. I'm not sure what the point of this book is though. The plotting and characters were very inconsistent, and although I don't regret reading this, I won't be picking up the sequel.

Richard Morgan - Black Man
In the future, some people were engineered to be super soliders - They're known as 13s. Then the war ended, and they were told that they could either live on Mars, or on Earth in camps. The only exception is our main character, Carl Marsalis, who works for the future version of the UN hunting down rogue 13s. This starts as a mystery, as there's a 13 out there who appears to be working as a serial killer, and Carl is rescued from jail to help capture him. (Carl was in jail for providing money for an abortion, which is illegal in the middle America of the future, known to locals as The Republic, but to the rest of the world as Jesusland). Anyways, as Carl tracks down the killer, Carl's past is revealed, we find out more about the 13s, and Carl goes through the alienation of being concerned a freak, even by those he's trying to help. He's also black, so he deals with some additional racism there.
Morgan's a great author and this is a great book.

Charlie Stross - The Merchants' War
4th book in the Merchant Princes sequence, about people in an alternative world who can travel to our world, and have set themself up as merchant princes in their world, and use their home world to smuggle drugs, which they sell in our world. The series concerns Meredith, who's from the other world but was raised in our world. For reasons I'm not clear on, Stross is trying to make clear that this is not a fantasy series. The other worlds aren't magic, there's a scientific explanation for them!

KJ Parker - The Company -
So years ago there was a war, and 6 young men from a small town sign up for war. They become the most successful unit in the war, basically legends. One of them dies, 4 of them return home after the war, and one stays in the army and become a General. So the General comes back, and convinces everyone that they should move to an island and set up shop. The do. There's not much more to this than that, but there's also so much more. Tons of history between the characters is revealed, secret motivations, etc. I've read 4 books by Parker and loved them all. Parker is not afraid to avoid taking the easy way out at the end of her novels, and the way she gets there here, and who's around at the end and in what shape is great.

Dust - Elisabeth Bear
So an angel is beaten on the battlefield, and her opponent cuts off her wings, throws her in prison, and plans to kill her, which will start a war between the various factions of what reamins of heaven and earth. This novel is full of allegories and metaphors, which is fine, but it's difficult for novels like this, which a far future almost post humanity world, to resonate with me. For example, SPOILER, the angel escapes. However, unlike a novel set in modern times, or ancient times, or even on a spaceship, I can't understand where she needs to get through as she runs through the ether. What's that actually supposed to mean? Does she have to cross a river, get to the power room, to the train station, etc? When your entire setting have virtually no meaning, I don't understand them. So, although this novel has received lots of positive critical response, it didn't work for me.

Shadow of the Scorpion - Neal Asher
A novel set in Asher's Polity universe, detailing the early life of his James Bond-like super agent Ian Cormac. The more Asher I read the more I like him, as I really think he's getting better with each novel. Also, unlike the last Asher novel I read (Brass Man) he doesn't let his extreme right-wing politics or desire to create worlds full of strange worlds get in the way of telling a story. This is a short novel which reveals a lot about how Cormac between the man he is in the later novels.