Thursday, July 31, 2008

Summer reading

This trip to Crete has really kicked off summer reading. The list includes a number of books I brought with me (The Mirrored Heavens, The H-Bomb Girl, Axis, The Prefect) and a bunch I picked up while traveling from the airport, hotel "exchange shelves," and a small bookstand in Rethymo Crete that we found (a good deal: bring in two used books, get one free). The books I picked up along the way included a couple of crappy "physical anthropologist solving crime" type stories - told poorly. But its all good in the summer...

A Painted House- John Grisham - Picked this up at the bookstand in Crete. It is a "slice of time and place" kind of story about a seven year old boy growing up in northeastern Arkansas - Craighead county in the 1950s. The story takes place in the county a bit north of where I did my dissertation research and along the St. Francis. So the landscape he describes I know well (though, its a different world there now). The kid wants to be a Cardinal baseball player when he grows up but he's living in a time where cotton is picked by hand and there is a lot of cotton to pick. An relaxing summer read.

The Mirrored Heavens - David J. Williams - This is one of those hyper-cyber-techno-future type books that is largely derivative of Gibson's work. It is a bit underrealized in terms of technology and characters. Much of the story line hinged on people in fantastical suits doing crazy things with weapons and armor. Nonetheless, it is a good read. I think this was a first novel - perhaps future work will be less ambitious in terms of scope and more detailed.

The Ring - Stephen Baxter - This volume finishes (as far as I can tell) one of the branches of Xeelee series (Raft · Timelike Infinity · Flux · Ring · Vacuum Diagrams · Reality Dust · Riding the Rock) and the Michael Poole series (Coalescent · Exultant · Transcendent · Resplendent). In the story, we finally find out about end of the Xeelee as they engage in megayear battles with non-baryonic matter birdlike entities who are altering the structure of stars to be more stable for their version of the universe. Its a far out story of course, but full of details about the inner workings and evolution of stars as well as implications of anti-particles and the dark matter universe. Geeky sci-fi.

Relentless - Simon Kerrick - I picked this book up in a little used book stand in Rethymo Crete simply as a beach read. That's really all its worth - a hack tale about a guy who is being pursued by some evil dudes who want him for a reason that doesn't become clear until the "surprising" end (which turns out to be his wife who was having an affair with his best friend who was a lawyer for a judge that was involved in a pedophile ring that also involved an evil developer but it also turns out that his wife was having an affair with a woman who worked at the university and was ... well, its a big mess). Hack writing, easy reading.

Written in Bone- Simon Beckett - One of the now-popular tales of a forensic anthropologist who solves crimes. Here, the main characters travels to an island off the Scotland coast to explore a mysterious death that turns out to be a murder - the wrap of this one is hilariously convoluted in terms of the "who dunnit" and involves a twisted maze of characters. Fairly generic murder mystery stuff combined with basic forensic anthropology (mostly focused on the effects of bodies that catch on fire - so lots of gruesome descriptions of heads exploding, limbs curling and meat sizzling). Another easy beach read.

Axis - Robert Charles Wilson - A sequel to Wilson's book Spin about a world that is made accessible through a giant arch that is placed by the "Hypotheticals" - a set of mysterious aliens that no one ever sees. The idea is that these aliens are some vast set of replicators that do odd things like trap the Earth behind a big stasis shell and then let the universe age 5 million years. In this volume, we learn more about the Hypotheticals as their remains rain down on this alterna-Earth and genetically engineered children become communication conduits. Sadly, it's pretty forgettable really - I had to think hard about what the book was about to write this summary.

Odd Thomas- Dean Koontz - I picked this up at the airport on the way to Greece as something really throw away (really throw away.. I never intended to bring it back). It's the story of a dude named "Odd Thomas" who can see the dead (sound familiar?). Anyways, he sees dead people and gets involved in resolving bad things that had happened to them. The main arc of the story is about a big disaster that is coming to a little town that Odd tries to stop (he knows its coming because of some mysterious dark creatures that only he can see that gather before a bunch of deaths). Like most of Koontz's book - its quick read, good for about one cross country flight - but nothing particularly redeeming about it.

Narrow Dog to the Carcassone- Terry Darlington - I swapped one of the other books at our hotel in the hills above Chania, Crete. It's a nonfiction account of Darlington's trip in a crazily long motor boat - 62 feet long, 3 feet wide - that was built to travel the absurdly narrow canals of England. Darlington with his wife and a whippet named Jim motor this tube of a boat across the English Channel - and then across the canals of Belgium and France. It is a funny story, though decidedly British in its humor. I liked it particularly because it reminded me of the Free Spirit and the numerous adventures we had on that old wooden Chris Craft in the Puget Sound.

Raw Shark Texts- Steven Hall - A completely unexpected tale of someone who finds themselves waking up and not knowing who they are but with letters coming to themselves from themselves (ala Memento). But in this story, the protagonist finds himself chased by conceptual sharks that swim the seas of shared ideas. It's a cool exploration in the notion that our ideas of the world form the world and that there can be beasts/replicators that evolve in the information landscape (and prey on generators of ideas). A weird but excellent book that I know Tim Hunt, Mark Madsen, and Mike Pfeffer will love.

The H-Bomb Girl - Steven Baxter - A fun alternative history/possibilities story about a girl who meets versions of herself from potential bleak futures. It takes place in the early 60s Liverpool. Light sci fi.

Currently reading and still on the stack..

The Prefect - Alastair Reynolds

The Line War- Neal Ascher- Neal Ascher - I started this one and right off the bat is a great extension of the Cormac series.

House of Suns - Alastair R - Alastair Reynolds

Saturn's Children - Charles Stross - Charles Stross

The Execution Channel - Ken Macleod

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